SINN FÉIN delegates have voted in favour of liberalising the party’s policy on abortion.
Members overwhelmingly supported the motion at the party’s Ard Fheis in Belfast on Saturday, which will allow Sinn Féin leadership to set abortion policy.
The party had previously backed terminations in certain circumstances such fatal foetal abnormality and pregnancies that were the result of rape or sexual abuse.
"Not one of us in this hall today can predict if we, or our sisters, daughters or friends will ever find ourselves in that situation," said Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill .
"But if we ever did, we need to have a compassionate healthcare service to be available to help us.“
The decision means the party will now be able to support proposed new legislation in Ireland that will permit abortion up to 12 weeks.
Meanwhile another motion to allow TDs and Senators a free vote on the forthcoming legislation was comprehensively rejected.
Conference delegates in favour of allowing a conscience vote said the result would turn the party into a ‘cold house for pro-life members’.
'Will of the people'
While recognising not all members would back the move, Ms O’Neill said the party should ‘speak with one voice and implement the will of the people’ following last month's referendum result to repeal the Eighth Amendment on abortion.
“We recognise that there are sincere, strongly-held views but we must face the reality that the lives of some women are placed at a real and substantial risk due to their pregnancy,” said O’Neill.
“It is not right that I, or any section of Irish opinion, should seek to impose our outlook, or will, on society generally,” she added.
“It is possible for individual members to have their own views on this issue but it is also important that the party has a position, that people know what it is and as legislators that it is something that we vote for together.
“The buck stops when our legislators go to act on this in the Dáil and the Assembly.
“We must speak with one voice and implement the will of the people.
“We are unique amongst the parties in that our members decide our policy.
“We must respect that and recognise that we are not independents – we are Sinn Féin elected representatives first and foremost.”