Abortion, same-sex marriage officially legalized in Northern Ireland

Abortion, same-sex marriage officially legalized in Northern Ireland
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Abortions and same-sex marriages are legal in Northern Ireland as of Tuesday.

As the clock struck midnight, a series of legislation that the United Kingdom’s Parliament passed earlier this year went into effect in Northern Ireland, making same-sex marriage legal and extending abortion access to the country. 

Northern Ireland’s government is “devolved,” meaning that it can legislate independently from the British Parliament on some issues. But the governing body collapsed in 2017, and it has not been able to reform with a ruling party due to ongoing conflicts between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, according to the Independent.

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The laws were set to take effect Tuesday if the governing body was not able to form again to block the legislation.

Previously, abortion was banned in Northern Ireland in almost all cases except when a woman’s life was at risk, The Washington Post reported. Pregnant people could be imprisoned for getting an abortion in the territory as well as for seeking one. Caregivers could also be charged for giving advice on seeking an abortion.

Beginning Tuesday, all prosecutions surrounding abortions will be dropped. The United Kingdom will pay for the expenses of people traveling to other parts of the United Kingdom to obtain an abortion. Medical support will be provided for those who have an abortion with pills in Northern Ireland.

“Thousands of women from the North have abortions every year, outside the law in their bedrooms or in England,” Goretti Horgan, a spokeswoman for the abortion rights group Alliance for Choice, told The Washington Post. “They will now be able to access normal health care.”

Free and legal abortion services are expected to be available to pregnant people in Northern Ireland by early next year.  

Parliament also voted overwhelmingly earlier this year in a 383-73 vote to pass legislation legalizing LGBTQ marriage in Northern Ireland. The legislation will go into effect beginning in February, The Washington Post reported.

“We’re so proud to be surrounded by some of the people, couples and campaigners who have brought us to this point,” Love Equality NI, an LGBTQ marriage campaign, tweeted. “Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone.”

Critics of the legislation blasted Parliament's vote in July when the laws were passed, arguing that the London-based legislature should not step into these policies for Northern Ireland.