Amendment Legalizing Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage in Northern Ireland Now in Effect
British members of Parliament voted in July to pass an amendment to bring Northern Ireland’s abortion laws into compliance with a 2018 report from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and with existing laws throughout the rest of the UK. The amendment went into effect on October 22, after the regional government failed to restore the assembly at Stormont, which had collapsed due to bitter disputes between parties.
Abortion services must be available in Northern Ireland by the end of March 2020, and guidelines have been issued for the interim period, requiring healthcare professionals to inform women seeking abortion services that the UK government will fund travel and accommodation to receive such services in England.
Previous to the passage of this amendment, Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were among the most restrictive in the world, the sole exception being to save a woman’s life, and women could face up to life imprisonment for having an abortion. At the time of publication, it remains unclear what the retroactive effect will be for
women convicted under the previous ban.
The amendment follows on the heels of the 2018 referendum in the Republic of Ireland, which saw 66 percent of voters casting their ballot to decriminalize abortion.
The British Parliament also passed an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 2014. Regulations for same-sex marriage will be in place by January 2020.