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What exactly is Sinn Féin's policy on abortion?

The party’s policy could be radically overhauled at its Ard Fheis this weekend.

14/10/2014 Budget Day 2015 Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Pearse Doherty Source: Sam Boal
SINN FÉIN’S DECISION to abstain on Clare Daly’s bill providing for abortion in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities last month raised questions about where exactly the party stands on the issue.

The reason for its abstention was because it apparently didn’t have an official position on fatal foetal abnormalities – an oversight that many in the party will admit wasn’t at all ideal.

Gerry Adams admitted that the party should have been in a position to vote one way or another on the issue when he spoke to TheJournal.ie last month. He told us:

I phoned one of the main advocates on behalf of those couples, and particularly the women, and I apologised for the fact that we didn’t have a policy and that is our fault. But we will have a policy in two or three weeks’ time.

gerry adams gif Source: TheJournal.ie

He was referring the party’s Ard Fheis which takes place in Derry this weekend and where four motions on abortion are to be debated and voted on.

But what is Sinn Féin’s current policy on abortion?

Both Adams and Martin McGuinness have previously stated that Sinn Féin is anti-abortion.

But it’s long-standing position was to favour legislating for the X Case which provides for abortions in circumstances where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including risk of suicide.

It was because of this that the party supported the controversial Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in 2013 which legislated for the X Case ruling.

Although not all of its TDs agreed. Meath West’s Peadar Tóibín defied his party and earned a six-month suspension as a result.

What’s being debated this weekend? 

It’s possible that Sinn Féin’s policy on abortion could be radically overhauled by the end of this weekend.

On the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities a detailed motion has been put forward by the party’s Ard Comhairle (national executive)  and it appears to have the backing of the leadership. Here’s what it says:

af abortion 1

The motion calls for “legal frameworks” in the North and South to provide for abortion in the circumstances where a woman is carrying a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality.

If passed this would give Sinn Féin a position on these particular cases and would, it seems, allow the party to support Clare Daly’s bill, or a version of it, if it came before the Dáil again.

Sinn Fein Protecting Workers Rights Documents Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

What about the 8th? 

However, as the government argued last month, the official legal advice is that it is impossible to provide for abortion in these circumstances without repealing the existing 8th Amendment to the Constitution. Article 40.3.3 enshrines the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

Perhaps with that in mind a motion calling on the party to support calls for repealing the 8th Amendment has been put forward by the James Connolly Cumann in Dublin:

af abortion 3

If this were passed then Sinn Féin would commit to campaigning in favour of repeal in any future referendum. However, it doesn’t say if the party would commit to holding a referendum if in government after the next election.

Gerry Adams is on record as favouring repeal of the 8th Amendment. With his backing it appears likely that this motion will pass.

Going even further 

Another motion calls on Sinn Féin to acknowledge that “women’s reproductive rights, and control over a woman’s body and sexuality are entirely a matter for the woman concerned”:

af abortion 4

This motion would appear to be calling on the party to adopt a firmly pro-choice stance.

But the wording of it remains vague enough that it could be supported without necessarily leading to any firm policy decisions i.e. that Sinn Féin would legislate to provide for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The pro-life motion 

Then on the other side of the debate, a firmly pro-life motion is also before the Ard Fheis this weekend:

af abortion 2

If passed this motion, in calling for all children diagnosed with “fatal illnesses or disabilities” to be protected by the State would firmly put the party in the pro-life category.

Not a simple issue 

Of course many believe that abortion is not a black and white issue and when it comes to Sinn Féin that is certainly the case. There are lots of different views in a party famed for taking a very collective stance on policy.

This week, we spoke to the Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy about the whole area of abortion and his answer was refreshingly honest:

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Party sources have indicated that these different views will be expressed at the Ard Fheis where dissent from the leadership position is not common-place.

Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that she will be supporting the motion on fatal foetal abnormalities, saying yesterday she was “anxious” to see the area addressed.

But on the other side of the debate, Tóibín, who has twice been suspended from the party over his strong pro-life stance, has said he will not be supporting the measure.

At last year’s Ard Fheis he attempted to make the issue of abortion a matter of conscience i.e. allow TDs a free vote on such matters. But the motion was defeated with one councillor referring to it as “fundamentally dishonest”.

McDonald said at the time that while debate was encouraged, the party ultimately had to take policy positions.

One thing seems sure, Sinn Féin will have new policy positions on abortion after this weekend and everyone of its elected representatives will be bound by them.

TheJournal.ie will be bringing you full coverage from the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Derry this weekend. Follow @orlaryan and @TJ_Politics for updates. 

Read: No more ‘throwing around’ our national flag, Sinn Féin TDs told

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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