Briefing, World

Eighth Amendment Repealed

Michelle O’Neill

Vice President, Sinn Fein

Abortion is a sensitive and emotive issue. But it is an issue that demands objectivity and a compassionate response based on best medical and scientific advice. And fundamentally it is about women’s rights, women’s health – it’s about respecting and trusting women.

Current legislation in both the north and south of Ireland is failing women. The status quo is unacceptable and it is untenable. So it’s an issue we have to deal with urgently.

The result in the Repeal the 8th referendum in the south of Ireland delivered positive and long overdue change. The result of the referendum should allow us to create a society which is more compassionate and caring and which at its core values, trusts and respects women.

Sinn Féin played a leading role in the debate and in the campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment and our annual party conference endorsed the development of legislation to create a modern and compassionate medical approach to women’s health.

As the referendum result was declared in Dublin, it was amazing how many people were commenting on the need for similar change in the north. And it is clear that women in the north can’t be left behind.

So, the focus has now shifted to the north of Ireland and to what comes next here. The campaign for change in the south of Ireland was conducted in a responsible, mature and respectful way and correctly focused on the need for appropriate, modern and compassionate healthcare services for women.

The same appropriate, modern and compassionate healthcare services for women must be available for all women in Ireland, north and south.

Sinn Féin supports legislative change in the north. The first step in this process must be to end the criminalisation of women through the repeal of Sections 58 & 59 of the archaic Offences Against the Person Act 1861, a piece of Westminster legislation that needs to be urgently repealed.

Local legislative change should then be delivered by locally elected members of the devolved Assembly in the north of Ireland.

However due to the anti-rights agenda of the DUP, our local Assembly and executive is not functioning and is therefore unable to make the required legislative change.

Bizarrely, the anti-rights agenda of the DUP is facilitated by the Tory government because of their dependence on DUP votes at Westminster. Theresa May has prioritised the survival of her government over women’s health, marriage equality and other basic rights that are available and protected everywhere else on these islands.

But women should not be expected to wait. The LGBT+ community should not be expected to wait. Victims of the conflict currently being denied the right to due legal process should not be expected to wait and the denial of rights of native language speakers should end now.

For this reason Sinn Fein has argued that in the absence of the local legislative assembly, the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference should meet as a matter of urgency – under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – to deliver on rights and equality issues including the critical issue of women’s right to appropriate, modern and compassionate health care.