Pin It
Rally for Choice Belfast
Photography Ciara McMullan

Congratulations Northern Ireland! Abortion and equal marriage now legal

The country’s draconian laws were finally lifted at midnight, in a historic moment for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights

It’s a historic day for women and the LGBTQ+ community in Northern Ireland as the country’s archaic abortion laws and ban on same-sex marriage have finally been lifted.

As the clock struck midnight – and just over a year since the Republic of Ireland repealed the 8th amendment – women, girls, and pregnant people were freed from the fear of prosecution when undergoing a termination, while queer couples were empowered to celebrate their love.

In July, MPs backed amendments which required parliament to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if the country’s devolved government was not restored. Despite an embarrassing last-ditch attempt by the DUP and other anti-choice politicians – who returned to the Stormont parliament building yesterday for the first time since 2017 – to prevent the changes, legal abortion services are set to be in place by March 31, and equal marriage regulations made by January 13.

Until now, Northern Ireland has been the only part of the UK that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, and has a restrictive ban on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. This draconian law has forced thousands of people to travel elsewhere for terminations – at an enormous monetary and emotional cost – and seen women criminalised for accessing abortion pills. One mother currently facing prosecution for procuring the pills for her 15-year-old daughter will have her charges dropped.

From today, anyone in Northern Ireland who needs an abortion will have the cost of the termination, their travel to England, and accommodation paid for by the British government, while those who order abortion pills online can seek aftercare from a medical professional without fear of being reported to the police.

“Today marks the first step in getting women in Northern Ireland equal rights with their counterparts in England and Wales,” Labour MP Stella Creasy, who was instrumental in the UK’s summer vote, said in a statement. “When it comes to being able to make decisions over their own bodies, women and girls in Northern Ireland will no longer be threatened with the criminal law.” 

Addressing the danger of possible underhand tactics to backtrack on the changes, Creasy asserted: “It is vital that we do not now see any backroom deals in parliament or in the assembly to water down the commitment we made to treat women in Northern Ireland as equals. We will accept no more delays in the regulations governing access. Women in Northern Ireland have waited long enough.” 

“We will accept no more delays in the regulations governing access. Women in Northern Ireland have waited long enough” – Stella Creasy, Labour MP 

Emma Campbell, co-chair of activist group Alliance for Choice said: “This is the most seismic change for women and pregnant people in Northern Ireland for generations. Finally we are rid of the British law that caused so much harm and heartache to multitudes since 1861. Abortion will finally be a healthcare option instead of one beset by multiple legal barriers. We have been using abortion medications safely on our own for over a decade, it was criminalisation put us in danger and medical professionals in a bind. We won’t stop pushing for provision until everyone is able to access the healthcare they deserve.”

Also a monumental day for queer people in Northern Ireland, the arrival of equal marriage will be widely welcomed by the LGBTQ+ community and allies. Writing at the time of the UK’s vote to secure same-sex marriage, campaigner Stephen Donnan-Dalzell said: “The feeling on the ground is one of hope, hope that we might finally be able to celebrate our love in the same way that same-sex couples have been able to do in the rest of the UK and Ireland for some time now. Today we are walking a little taller than we were 48 hours ago.”

While certain MPs have been vital in securing the changes, the victory is owed to activists and grassroots organisations who have been fighting tirelessly for years for equal rights. As Dazed’s deputy editor Anna Cafolla wrote in the Guardian yesterday: “Though hope can feel hard in a post-conflict society marred by political apathy, we’ve seen that love wins, the grassroots triumph, and that the North is well and truly now.”