Gay marriage, abortion changes to become law in Northern Ireland

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Pro-choice activists take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Abortion is set to be decriminalised and same-sex marriage legalised in Northern Ireland as of midnight, bringing its laws in line with the rest of the U.K. Photo: Niall Carson/PA via AP.

London – Same-sex marriage and abortion rights are expected to become legal in Northern Ireland at midnight on Monday, despite last-ditch attempts by church leaders and local politicians to halt the changes.

Lawmakers in the British parliament voted for the changes in July, if Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing government had failed to resume operating by midnight.

The British government reinstated its powers to legislate for Northern Ireland from London earlier this year, after the devolved government was suspended for more than two years.

“THIS IS IT, the day we say bye to oppressive abortion laws that have policed our bodies & denied us choice,” tweeted Amnesty UK women’s rights campaigner Grainne Teggart.

The Love Equality NI campaign, which promotes marriage equality, tweeted photographs of a celebration of the legal changes.

“We’re so proud to be surrounded by some of the people, couples and campaigners who have brought us to this point,” the group said. “Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone.”

Human rights lawyer Darragh Mackin, who advised on challenges to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, tweeted that it was “a historic moment for women’s rights in NI.”

But the rival Both Lives Matter campaign vowed to continue to fight London’s “imposed abortion regime.”

The new law allows women to terminate pregnancies up to 24 weeks, subject to medical approval, and after that where there is a risk to their mental or physical health, in cases of serious and fatal foetal abnormality, or following rape or incest.

There is also to be an interim moratorium on the prosecution of anyone who undergoes or assists in a termination.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Irish republican party Sinn Fein have shared power in Northern Ireland for most of the years following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which underpins Northern Ireland’s peace process.

The DUP convened an emergency meeting of the devolved assembly on Monday but Sinn Fein did not take part and the meeting lasted less than an hour.

“The DUP’s stunt in the assembly today was pointless, and achieved nothing other than to bring the political institutions into further disrepute and further undermine public confidence,” said Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland.

“Sinn Fein welcomes the end of the denial of the right of our LGBT brothers and sisters to marry the person they love,” O’Neill said, adding that it also “welcomes the end of the archaic law criminalizing women.”

“There is a clear need to legislate for modern compassionate health care services for women,” she said.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was “not the end of the matter,” insisting that her party would explore options to repeal the new legislation, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

In 2015, the DUP vetoed a vote that would have allowed gay marriage, after a majority in the assembly approved the change.

Ireland voted to allow abortion in some circumstances last year and has allowed same-sex marriage since a 2015 referendum.

Britain legalized abortion in 1967 and same-sex marriage in 2014.