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'We have further to go': Why three Sinn Féin politicians abstained in an Eighth Committee vote

Louise O’Reilly said the motion to allow unrestricted access to a termination up to 12 weeks went “slightly beyond party policy”.

Louise O'Reilly was one of three Sinn Féin members to abstain in yesterday's vote.
Louise O'Reilly was one of three Sinn Féin members to abstain in yesterday's vote.
Image: RollingNews.ie

SINN FÉIN TD Louise O’Reilly has defended the decision of the party’s members on the Eighth Amendment Committee to abstain on a motion supporting unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks to cover cases of rape and incest.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the TD said her party is “strongly committed” to making terminations available to women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual violence. However, she said the party had discussed the issue at length at its Ard Fheis and this motions had gone “slightly beyond party policy”.

She said she and her colleagues could not fully support it and this is why they abstained.

Three Fianna Fáil members – Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers and Ned O’Sullivan – had proposed an amendment to the motion allowing abortion in cases of rape that read as follows:

“That the committee recommend, in view of the complexities of legislating for the termination of pregnancy for reasons of rape and incest, that it be more appropriate to deal with this issue by making the termination of pregnancy lawful with no restriction as to reason up to a gestation limit of up to 12 weeks, through a GP-led service.”

This, essentially, would mean allowing abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks. Committee members had heard in evidence from witnesses that it would be difficult to put in place legislation that would cater specifically for cases of rape and incest up to 12 weeks, as it would likely require proof of an assault.

Senator Rónán Mullen described the Fianna Fáil amendment as tantamount to “abortion on demand”. He said permitting abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks is “reminiscent of the judgment of Solomon”, adding that it removes the rights of “little creatures” in the womb.

‘We could move policy further’

In the committee session, O’Reilly said Sinn Féin members, which include herself, TD Jonathan O’Brien and Senator Paul Galvin, would be abstaining on the proposal to allow abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks.

She told the committee it was not in line with the party position decided at its Ard Fheis.

The committee voted to allow abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks, with 12 in favour, five against, four abstentions – three Sinn Féin members and the chair Catherine Noone.

“At the committee, we heard evidence of how difficult it is to bring forward compassionate legislation. My personal opinion is really bound up in that of the party, and I know I sound like a robot when I say that,” she told TheJournal.ie today.

On the one hand, the party had a very robust discussion at the Ard Fheis and we moved policy forward. I still think we have some more room to go, we could move policy further, but that is a matter for the members. Anyone who knows me knows my personal views, but I very much respect the democratic process of the party. It took courage on the floor of the Ard Fheis to have an open discussion on it.

O’Reilly said what was important about yesterday was the overwhelming support from committee members for a straight repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

“That was the momentous one,” she said.

“We will be able to deliver the votes in the Dáil in support of a repeal – neither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael are in a position to say that – it will be all down to individuals.”

Read: TDs and senators vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment>

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