Sinn Féin policy decision has implications for abortion referendum process

The Sinn Féin Clár for their 2017 Ard Fheis has been released with details of 171 motions for delegates to debate and vote on.

Many of the motions will pass uncontested but how Motions 144 to 151 are voted on will decide how the party approaches what will be one of the main political issues for Ireland in 2018 – abortion.

Two of the motions call for ‘Sinn Féin elected representatives’ and ‘Sinn Féin members’ respectively to be allowed to vote ‘according to their conscience’. Another motion calls for the eighth amendment of the constitution to be retained. Similar motions have been comfortably defeated in previous years and this will be expected again on Saturday.

The motion from the Ard Chomhairle is significant in that it advocates abortion where a woman’s health is ‘at serious risk’. It also reasserts the party’s opposition to the criminalisation of women who decide to have an abortion.

This has the potential, if implemented, to take the abortion issue away from the courts and hand it to health practitioners. It would firmly frame abortion as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

However a number of delegates wish to see the party go further. Other motions up for debate propose basing party policy on the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly which advocated allowing abortions for the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

The Ard Fheis motions and the party’s position on abortion takes on a fresh importance as the Eighth Amendment Committee are due to conclude their work within the next few weeks.

Those that wish to see the party take a more pro-choice stance, that have increased significantly in number in recent years, are concerned that the party TDs and Senators could be placed in a position where they have to vote against the holding of a referendum or dilute the substance of any proposed ballot.

As recent polls indicate public opinion on abortion is shifting both north and south. Sinn Féin won’t be the only party that will be reviewing its policy for the future