Law change decriminalising same-sex marriage and abortion in the North comes into effect

Law change decriminalising same-sex marriage and abortion in the North comes into effect

Abortion has been decriminalised in the North after a landmark law change came into force at midnight.

The legal reforms voted in at Westminster have also paved the way for the introduction of same-sex marriage in the region, with the first weddings expected in February.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 also includes provisions for a new pension paid to injured victims of the Troubles.

Martha Brown (left, grey t-shirt) with her partner Louise McCullough (right, black t-shirt) and equal marriage supporters at Maverick Bar, Belfast, celebrate the change to abortion and same sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)
Martha Brown (left, grey t-shirt) with her partner Louise McCullough (right, black t-shirt) and equal marriage supporters at Maverick Bar, Belfast, celebrate the change to abortion and same sex marriage laws in Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Act was ostensibly designed by the British Government to provide the legal framework for under-pressure civil servants to continue running public services in the region in the ongoing absence of powersharing.

However, during its passage through UK Parliament in the summer, opposition MPs bolted on amendments to the law to bring about the historic abortion and marriage reforms.

The only way the law changes could have been halted ahead of the midnight deadline was if a new devolved executive had been in place before then.

Drag queen Titty Von Tramp at Maverick Bar, Belfast, counts down the clock to midnight as the law change passes (Liam McBurney/PA)
Drag queen Titty Von Tramp at Maverick Bar, Belfast, counts down the clock to midnight as the law change passes (Liam McBurney/PA)

That was also going to be a long shot.

More than 1,000 days since powersharing imploded amid a row over a botched green energy scheme, recent months saw limited progress in efforts to resolve the raft of issues still preventing the DUP and Sinn Féin re-entering government together.

The Assembly did sit for the first time in over two and half years yesterday, after DUP members and several other anti-abortion unionists signed a recall petition to reconvene proceedings.

A PinkNews LGBT event at Parliament Buildings, Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)
A PinkNews LGBT event at Parliament Buildings, Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

However, the members were unable to influence the law changes as the Assembly could not function properly in the absence of a ministerial executive.

The DUP’s attempt to table legislation to halt the abortion reform fell at the first hurdle after outgoing speaker Robin Newton ruled that the bill could not be considered until a new speaker was elected – an appointment that was impossible without nationalist approval.

Sinn Féin boycotted proceedings while the SDLP walked out after making clear it would not participate in the election of a speaker.

The debating chamber at Stormont (NI Assembly TV/PA)
The debating chamber at Stormont (NI Assembly TV/PA)

DUP leader Arlene Foster has vowed to explore legal options to stop the liberalisation of abortion in the region.

However, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the law changes, branding the DUP’s behaviour in the Assembly chamber a stunt.

Northern Ireland had the strictest abortion regime in the UK or Ireland, with terminations only permitted if the mother’s life was in danger or there was a serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Now the 19th-century laws that criminalised abortion have fallen away, the British Government has assumed responsibility for introducing new regulations to provide greater access to terminations in the region by next April.

The Northern Ireland Office will consult on the shape and remit of the new services.

In the interim period, women will be offered free transport to access abortion services in England.

Under the Act, the British Government is also obliged to make regulations to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland by January 13.

Taking account of a required notification period engaged couples must observe, the first weddings are anticipated around Valentine’s Day in February.

The British Government is also required to make regulations to introduce a victims pension scheme in Northern Ireland by the end of January, to be in operation by the end of May.

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DUP urges action to fill abortion ‘vacuum’DUP urges action to fill abortion ‘vacuum’

Unrestricted abortion proposed for NI up to 14 weeksUnrestricted abortion proposed for NI up to 14 weeks


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