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Sinn Féin TDs will not be given a free vote on abortion law changes – The Irish Times


Sinn Féin politicians will not be given a free vote on potential changes to the existing abortion law, it has emerged.

An independent review has recommended sweeping changes to the existing law including an extension of the 12-week limit to access abortion in certain circumstances, decriminalisation of medical practitioners and making the mandatory three-day wait to access abortion medication optional. It has also highlighted ambiguity in the law in terms of a risk to the health or life of a woman, and in the case of fatal foetal abnormality.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that Fine Gael TDs will have a free vote on any changes to legislation, while it is understood Fianna Fáil TDs will also have a free vote.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “Sinn Féin elected representatives are expected to respect policy decisions taken by the ardfheis and to vote in line with party policy.”

A source said that Sinn Féin intends to study Barrister Marie O’Shea’s report in detail. The report has been referred by Government to the Oireachtas Health Committee, which may recommend changes that would need to be voted on in the Dáil.

A Sinn Féin ardfheis in June 2018 cleared the way for party TDs and senators to vote for legislation allowing for abortion up to 12 weeks. A separate motion at the time requesting that all “Sinn Féin members be allowed to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion in accordance with their conscience” was rejected.

Mr Varadkar said that no decision has been made by the Government on any of the legislative proposals put forward by the independent review.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said many people would be shocked by the abortion review report.

“The Government persuaded many thousands of people to vote for the abortion referendum on the basis there would be some safeguards for children, yet five years later, it looks like the Government is going to wash away the remaining safeguards,” he said.

The Meath West TD said it now appeared that the three-day wait period was under threat and “the ability of the majority of doctors to refuse to carry out abortions on the basis of conscientious objection will be threatened”.

He asked the Taoiseach was the Government “about to delete the few remaining rights unborn children have”.

In response, Mr Varadkar said Mr Tóibín was “jumping the gun a bit here” and that the review was commissioned by the Government, as they were mandated and required by the Oireachtas to do.

“All the Government has decided is to refer the operational aspects to the HSE for implementation and the legislative changes, not proposed by the Government but by the reviewer, to the Oireachtas Committee on Health for further consideration,” Mr Varadkar said.

“We have made no decision whatsoever on any of those legislative proposals. It will now sit with the Oireachtas committee. They will have a chance to consider it and make a report back to the Government, and we will consider it then.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, who voted no in the 2018 referendum on abortion, said he welcomed the report and said that like a lot of other people his views on this issue has evolved and he broadly accepts its findings.

It is a significant turnaround of view for the Dublin Fingal TD. He said that after the vote in 2018, he respected the vote of the people and had voted for all the legislation without amendments.

Mr O’Brien said he welcomed the report and its recommendations on Tuesday when it was discussed at the weekly meeting of Cabinet.

“There are some real issues with people not being able to access services that that are that we are legally bound to provide. From looking at the changes that have been proposed, I would broadly welcome them and I’ll support them. Women can’t access abortion services in parts of our country and some of our State-run hospitals. That is wrong.”

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