- 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.
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.
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.”