Abortion decriminalised in Northern Ireland

Same sex marriage also legalised
  • Deborah Condon

Abortion has been decriminalised in Northern Ireland, despite efforts by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stop the legislation coming into effect.

While abortion has been available in the rest of the UK for decades, Northern Ireland had much more strict rules because the 1967 Abortion Act did not apply to it.

However, during the summer, backbench Labour MPs put forward amendments in Westminster, which compelled the British government to change the law governing abortion in the North unless power sharing was restored at Stormont by midnight on October 21.

The Stormont Government collapsed in January 2017.

In an effort to stop the new legislation coming into effect, the DUP attempted to table a parliament sitting on October 21, however opposition parties refused to attend.

"It is not lost on the public that the first time the DUP recalled the Assembly was yet another attempt to deny a section of our community rights. If the DUP applied the same creativity and imagination into getting the institutions up and running as they have in denying rights, we would have a functioning Assembly," commented Sinn Féin vice-president, Michelle O'Neill.

While the SDLP did attend the sitting, its members refused to back the election of a new speaker, which is a prerequisite for business to be conducted.

As part of the new legislation, women can now seek advice from health professionals about abortion services without fear of facing criminal prosecution.

Abortion services will not be available in Northern Ireland until April 2020 and until then, women will have to go to England to obtain an abortion, as they have been doing for decades. However, their travel, accommodation and medical treatment costs will be paid for.

Meanwhile, the new legislation also sees the legalisation of same sex marriages in Northern Ireland. These will be legal from January 13, 2020.


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