Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin Ard Fheis: Party votes to allow limited abortion

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Media captionThe Sinn Fein's Ard Fheis (annual conference) is taking place in Derry

Sinn Féin members have voted in favour of changing their party's policy on abortion, to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The diagnosis means doctors believe an unborn child will die either in the womb or shortly after birth.

The vote was taken at their Ard Fheis (annual conference) in Londonderry.

In his leader's speech, Gerry Adams said Sinn Féin wants to lead the next Irish government and will not "prop up" a Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil coalition.

'Compassionate'

He said Sinn Féin would "continue to oppose austerity" north and south of the Irish border.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Adams had told the BBC he would support a Sinn Féin motion in favour of allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

"We have to be very compassionate about this," he told the Inside Politics programme.

At present, the diagnosis is not grounds for a legal termination in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his party wanted to lead the next Irish government

However, a high profile case in Northern Ireland in 2013 highlighted the experience of pregnant women who are told their unborn child has no chance of survival, and who travel outside Ireland for a termination.

'Certainty and clarity'

The issue of fatal foetal abnormality is the subject of a Stormont consultation on possible changes to Northern Ireland's abortion law, which differs from the rest of the UK.

When the same issue was raised in the Republic of Ireland in the Dáil (Irish parliament) last month, Sinn Féin TDs abstained from voting on the issue.

The party's health spokesperson, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, said the outcome of Saturday's vote "provides certainty and clarity in terms of Sinn Féin's position".

He added: "The motion acknowledges that women in these circumstances who wish to continue with their pregnancy should be supported, with all efforts made to ensure appropriate care."

Image caption The Sinn Féin conference was picket by anti-abortion protesters ahead of the vote

In recent weeks, senior party members have spoken in favour of allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

'Moved'

Martin McGuinness had already backed a change in the party's policy on abortions in limited circumstances.

In January, Mr McGuinness said he had been moved by meeting Sarah Ewart, a woman from Northern Ireland who had to travel to England for an abortion because her baby had no chance of survival.

He told the Ard Fheis on Friday that there needed to be "compassion for expectant mothers like Sarah Ewart dealing with the heartache of fatal foetal abnormality".

'Rise up'

Anti-abortion campaigners protested outside the Sinn Féin conference as the vote was taking place.

Bernie Smyth, from Precious Life, told the BBC: "I believe the people of Northern Ireland will rise up in opposition to any change in legislation that would destroy disabled unborn children, or any unborn child for that matter."

However, the outcome of the vote was welcomed by Amnesty International.

Northern Ireland campaigner, Grainne Teggart said: "Women finding themselves in these most distressing of circumstances deserve access to this healthcare service without having to travel to England or further afield."

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