Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in Northern Ireland

  • Northern Ireland has been without a regional government since 2017, so all day-to-day affairs have been managed from Westminster.
  • Last July, British MPs approved amendments to extend the right to abortion and same-sex marriage to the province if no government was formed by October 21.
  • In a symbolic act against the adoption of these measures, some members of the Assembly returned to Stormont on Monday.

Abortion and same-sex marriage were legalized in Northern Ireland Tuesday by a decision of the British Parliament, despite a last symbolic attempt, launched by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Unlike in the rest of the UK, where abortion has been legal since 1967, in Northern Ireland, the practice was illegal, except if a pregnancy threatened a would-be mother’s life. Same-sex marriage was also prohibited.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, commonly referred to in the UK and Ireland simply as Stormont, is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. The Assembly is in a period of suspension, after it collapsed in January 2017 due to policy disagreements between its power-sharing leadership, particularly following the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Without a regional executive since 2017, due to a political-financial scandal, the day-to-day issues of Northern Ireland are managed from London. Because of this situation, last July, British MPs approved amendments to extend the right to abortion and same-sex marriage to the province if no government was formed by October 21. Since that didn’t happen, the law took effect at midnight GMT on Tuesday.

“A new legal framework for lawful access to abortion services in Northern Ireland will be put in place by March 31, 2020. Meanwhile, regulations for same-sex partnership will be outlined by January 13. This means at the latest; the first civil same-sex marriages will take place on the week of Valentine’s Day 2020,” Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith said.

“This is a hugely significant moment and the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland— one in which we’re free from oppressive laws that have policed our bodies and healthcare,” Grainne Teggart, head of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, celebrated on Twitter.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, colloquially known as the 2019 Northern Ireland bill, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that provides for the extension of the period for forming a Northern Ireland executive until 13 January 2020. The act also provided for the legalization of same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnership in Northern Ireland (in line with the rest of the UK) and the liberalization of abortion laws (in line with abortion rights in England and Wales) if no executive is formed by midnight on the 21 October 2019.

In a symbolic act against the adoption of these measures, some members of the Assembly returned to Stormont on Monday, for the first time in two and a half years. Among the deputies present, the majority belonged to the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by former regional government chief Arlene Foster, who is opposed to the adopted law. “It is a very sad day and I know some people will seek to celebrate and I would say to those people, think of us who are sad today and who believe this is an affront to human dignity,” said Foster.

In front of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a group of anti-abortion activists criticized the measure’s approval and displayed signs that read: “Abortion? Not in my name.” Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life Northern Ireland, told AFP, “it was the Westminster government who forced in legislation.” Smyth added, “this is undemocratic and it’s wrong. So it’s important that we’re here today to be a voice for the vulnerable— unborn children in our society.”

Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn criticized other MLAs who went to the Assembly only “to try to deny women and the LGTBQ community the rights they have guaranteed in the rest of the UK.” Outside the Assembly, there was also a pro-abortion rights group that displayed large white letters that formed the word “Decriminalized.”

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Vincent Ferdinand

News reporting is my thing. My view of what is happening in our world is colored by my love of history and how the past influences events taking place in the present time.  I like reading politics and writing articles. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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