Sinn Féin to hold ardfheis in June to debate its abortion policy

Motion on unrestricted access to abortion in first trimester will be discussed after referendum

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.  Photograph Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photograph Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

Sinn Féin’s ardfheis has been moved forward to June for a special debate on a motion to allow unrestricted access to abortion in the first trimester.

The party’s ardchomhairle agreed on Monday to a proposal from party leader Mary Lou McDonald to move the ardfheis forward from November.

It will now be held in Belfast on June 15th and 16th, some weeks after the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment has been held.

While Sinn Féin supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment, the party’s official policy restricts terminations to cases where the mother’s life, health or mental health are at risk; or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Ms McDonald’s motion, backed by the party’s executive, is that it is not possible to legislate for abortion in the case of rape in a compassionate way. It also alludes to Irish women accessing abortion abroad, or through buying pills online.

The motion states it “accepts abortion, without specific indication, should be available through a GP-led service in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period”.

First trimester

The Sinn Féin leader told a press conference in Dublin that the motion deliberately made no reference to a gestational limit of 12 weeks. She said the Government’s draft legislation might be subject to change and end up with a gestational limit of 10 or 13 weeks. She said if that were the case, and Sinn Féin had committed to 12 weeks, it would require another national conference to amend the policy.

Flanked by senior party figures, including deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, finance spokesman Pearse Doherty and health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, Ms McDonald stood over the decision to debate the motion after the referendum, and not before it.

She said the party’s position was to repeal the Eighth Amendment and that the motion sent out a clear indication to the party membership as to the views of the leadership on what should happen if the referendum is passed.

“I have set out here the view of the leadership and the motion is very clear. We will lead from the front to convince those members who have misgivings to bring them with us.”

There are divided views within Sinn Féin, with two TDs, Peadar Tóibín and Carol Nolan, already making public their opposition to the Government proposals. There have been several resignations in the North over the issue, the most prominent being the former MLA Francie Brolly in Co Derry. While the Northern membership is seen as more conservative on the issue than those in the South, party sources say they believe a majority will back the motion when it comes before the ardfheis in June.

Ms McDonald acknowledged those divisions. “I am well aware that within Sinn Féin, just as in wider society, there are mixed views on the issue of abortion. I accept that and I respect that. We need to respect people’s views but we also have to protect women and ensure that compassion prevails.”

However, she also indicated that notwithstanding the fact that it does not yet represent official Sinn Féin policy, she and the leadership would be stating their support for the Oireachtas committee recommendations during the referendum campaign. She also confirmed the party will debate the policy irrespective of the outcome of the referendum.

“We owe it to women like Savita Halappanavar [who died of sepsis in 2012 when her request for a termination of her non-viable pregnancy was refused] to do the right thing. It is time to trust women and to trust doctors and to show compassion to women facing heart-breaking decisions.”