16/06/2018 16:37 BST | Updated 16/06/2018 18:24 BST

Sinn Féin Members Vote To Liberalise Access To Abortion

'The North is next'.

Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters
Michelle O'Neill leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, left, holds up a placard as she celebrates the result of the abortion referendum in the Republic last month.

Sinn Féin members have voted to liberalise access to abortion at a party conference in Belfast.

Delegates backed a motion tabled by the party’s leadership which said that women across Ireland should have access to abortions within “a limited gestational period”.

Party grassroots recognised last month’s referendum decision of the people of the Irish Republic to overturn a constitutional provision which outlawed terminations in most cases.

Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland, unless there is serious risk to a woman’s life or health, and Prime Minister Theresa May has said the issue is one for democratically elected representatives at Stormont, the devolved Northern Irish assembly.

Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly Member Megan Fearon called for legislation on the issue “North and south”. 

“Unfortunately we have seen a denial of rights in the North and that can’t be allowed to continue, particularly on an issue as important as healthcare,” she said.

Delegates at Sinn Féin’s annual ard fheis decided abortion should also be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, where an infant cannot survive.

The party’s vice president and leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said: “Sinn Féin refuses to hide.

“It will address this issue with compassion and will show the leadership that is required.”

Earlier, O’Neill had opened the debate by telling delegates that all views should be respected.

New legislation implementing the Irish poll’s overwhelming two-to-one verdict in favour of making the procedure available will be introduced in the new year, the republic’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

It will make abortion freely available during early pregnancy and in limited circumstances later.

The referendum vote was lauded by proponents as a modernising and compassionate step for women after a fierce debate in which opponents including the Catholic church argued that the unborn baby’s life was sacrosanct.

Sinn Fein is a major force in opposition in the Republic.

It is the majority voice of nationalism in Northern Ireland and hopes to make gains in the Republic’s next general election.

Irish society has liberalised in recent years, with public polls in favour of divorce, same-sex marriage and access to terminations.

Yes campaigners from the Republic have turned their focus north of the border after last month’s historic referendum to repeal the Irish state’s restrictive constitutional position on abortion.

MEP Martina Anderson said: “The North is next.”

The debate has intensified since the outcome of the referendum, with the British Government resisting renewed calls to step in and legislate in the continuing absence of a power-sharing government in Belfast.