So it falls to Sinn Fein, alone of all the major parties to do the right thing on an amendment to Stormont’s Criminal Justice Bill, which as Philip Bradfield notes “would effectively forbid abortions from being carried out in Northern Ireland, except within the National Health Service (NHS)”.
They alone have the power to raise a petition of concern to effectively block the move in the legislative Assembly. It certainly would have suited the SDLP if Sinn Fein had ‘come out’ before last week’s byelection.
With support from figures like Mickey Hart it would have created a hot button issue that might have wrought serious damage on the SF vote. But the larger questions here are for the SDLP.
This move would have done everything to increase state control of medicine, and nothing at all to regulate abortion in Northern Ireland. The truth is that taking out Marie Stopes is an easier option for OFMdFM than writing clear legal guidelines for obstetricians.
It amounts to direct control by bureaucracy than by law. A deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs whichever side of the lobby you stand on. Or as Brian put it last last week they were trying to bring in “an unnecessary ban on a non-existent threat.”
We may have Sinn Fein’s all island project to thank for this move. Having broadcast their position in favour of legislating for the X case, they could hardly let such a weak piece of stroke politics pass.
That’s a positive pressure. The SDLP might learn that politics is sometimes about how you act in the interests of the longer term. And that not every risk your rivals undertake is an opportunity to punish them.
Let’s hope for greater candour from Sinn Fein on the need to produce guidelines that are fit for purpose. That is allow clinicians to make tough decisions in the interests of the mother as well as the child on the spot and at the time it is needed.
And without fear that some Perm Sec will show up breathing down their necks. If that’s not a cross community issue then I don’t know what is?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty