Northern Ireland political parties on abortion- the current state of play

Both Lives Matter | Blog | Northern Ireland political parties on abortion- the current state of play

The debate over abortion in Northern Ireland is a fraught and deeply complex one. There are strongly held views in favour of and against the law as it currently stands in Northern Ireland which only allows for abortion where the life of the mother is deemed to be at risk. For those who are not following the ins and outs of the debate on abortion here in Northern Ireland, it can be difficult to understand where our political parties stand on the question of abortion. The positions outlined below are drawn from the manifesto documents of political parties, official report contributions of members of political parties and statements given to the press. It is important to stress that the views outlined below are the official positions of the parties, individual elected representatives within political parties may hold different views on this matters.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)

The Democratic Unionist Party describes itself as being a pro-life party.[1] DUP MLA’s have consistently opposed any change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland when proposals have been made to change the law at the Assembly. All DUP MLAs present at the Assembly in 2016 voted against legislative amendments which would have legalised abortion in Northern Ireland on the grounds of unborn children having life-limiting conditions or on the grounds of sexual crime. All 8 DUP MPs voted against a 10 minute rule bill which sought to decriminalise abortion in all circumstances in England and Wales.

Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein oppose the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act, which is the law on abortion in Great Britain, in Northern Ireland.[2] However, while opposing the introduction of the 1967 Act, Sinn Fein is in favour of legislative change in Northern Ireland with regard to abortion. Sinn Fein MLAs in 2016 voted in favour of allowing for abortion on the grounds of unborn children having life-limiting conditions and on the grounds of sexual crime. Sinn Fein TDs have outlined that they support the removal of the 8th amendment, which protects the life of unborn children, from the Irish Constitution. Sinn Fein representatives have also criticised criminal prosecutions of women who take medication in Northern Ireland to induce abortions in Northern Ireland and have suggested that such prosecution should not be brought.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)

The party voted on 19th May 2018 to reaffirm their pro-life policy but to allow a conscience vote. Confused? – so are many people, including their former party leader. In effect, the SDLP have moved from a pro-life position to a conscience vote where members can actively campaign and vote for any policy they like relating to abortion. Our advice is to contact your local councillors and MLAs to find out where they stand on this issue and to ask the party what their pro-life policy means in practice. 

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)

For the Ulster Unionist Party, abortion is viewed as a matter of personal conscience for elected representatives and party members. Some elected representatives for the Ulster Unionist Party support the law on abortion as it currently stands. Others believe the law should be liberalised solely in cases involving unborn children who have life-limiting conditions and/or sexual crime while some UUP representatives go as far indicating that they are in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion which could result in abortion in all circumstances.

Alliance Party

For the Alliance Party, abortion is viewed as a matter of personal conscience for elected representatives and party members. However in statements made before the recent Assembly election, all eight currently elected Alliance MLAs indicated they are in favour of some form of change to the law on abortion as it currently stands. Some believe the law should be liberalised solely in cases involving unborn children who have life-limiting conditions and/or sexual crime while other representatives go as far indicating that they are in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion which could result in abortion in all circumstances.

Green Party

The party policy of the Green Party set out in their 2016/17 Assembly manifesto is to seek the full decriminalisation of abortion in any circumstances in Northern Ireland.[4] Green Party elected representatives have consistently outlined this position in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in local media.  The Green Party across the UK state their support of abortion in every circumstance, including with no time limits, and for reasons of sex selection and disability. They would also seek to remove any public funding from ‘anti-choice’ groups that wished to provide counselling and advice and would not allow these groups to be advertised on any publicly funded health information or signposted from any state institution such as hospitals or schools.[5]

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)

The TUV stated in its 2017 Assembly Election Manifesto that they do “not believe that the unborn child should be denied his or her fundamental human rights.”[6] TUV elected representatives have consistently stressed that the TUV is a pro-life party.

People Before Profit (PBP)

The PBP manifesto for the 2017 Assembly election stated the following: “People Before Profit trusts women to know when they can and cannot bring a child into the world. We want to see abortion treated as a health care issue between a woman and her doctor- legal, safe and available free on the NHS. We call for an immediate end to the criminalisation of women who terminate pregnancies and will work within the Assembly to end the prosecution of women who take abortion pills.”[7] PBP have indicated that they are in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

[1] For example, current DUP leader Arlene Foster described the DUP as being “unapologetically pro-life” on Inside Politics on the 8th of April 2016 and former Communities Minister Paul Givan repeated this statement on the View on February 23rd February 2017.

[2] This statement has been consistently made by Sinn Fein representatives- for example, senior Sinn Fein representative Conor Murphy stated on the View on February 23rd 2017 that Sinn Fein “don’t agree with bringing the 1967 Abortion Act in to the North here.”

[3] Current SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the SDLP as a pro-life party during an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback show on the 16th of February 2017.

[4] http://www.greenpartyni.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/GreenParty_Manifesto_2017_Web.pdf p13.

[5] https://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he.html

[6] http://tuv.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/TUV-manifesto-1.pdf p14.

[7] http://archive.peoplebeforeprofit.ie/node/845 p20-21.