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Parliament passes landmark Northern Ireland abortion, same-sex marriage legislation with early 2020 implementation date

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) 2017-2019 Bill passed through all remaining stages of debate in Parliament yesterday with overwhelming support, meaning that unless power-sharing resumes beforehand, by early 2020 same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is set to become legal, abortion is set to be decriminalised, and provision is to be made for legal abortion in at least the cases of sexual crime and foetal abnormality.

Humanists UK, which has campaigned in support of legal abortion and same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland, briefed both MPs and peers ahead of the debates on the Bill. It also intervened in all recent legal cases about abortion in Northern Ireland, which laid the groundwork for the recent votes.

The passing of today’s Bill, which now just requires royal assent before becoming an Act, means that unless Stormont returns to power sharing by 21 October, then the UK Government will be obliged to make the changes with respect to abortion and same-sex marriage by 31 March and 13 January, respectively, 2020 at the latest.  

These provisions were first added to the Bill as amendments laid down by MPs Stella Creasy and Connor McGinn, and supported and strengthened in the Lords by peers such as the Treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Lord Alf Dubs.

Thanks to the Lords, the Bill will now also remove criminal sanctions against pregnant women and doctors in Northern Ireland for procuring an abortion, and create a moratorium on prosecutions for self-administered abortions. 

This provision should mean that the ongoing prosecution of a mother who supplied abortion pills to her underage daughter, who had become pregnant as the result of a sexual crime, will be dropped. Humanists UK, who intervened in a judicial review of the decision to take this prosecution forward, has greatly welcomed this progress.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘Yesterday is a historic day for the rights of the people of Northern Ireland. Parliament stood up for women and LGBT people and put its commitment to upholding their human rights into legislation.

‘It has been over 50 years since women in the rest of the UK gained access to safe, legal, and local reproductive healthcare services, and we are delighted that, as long as the Northern Ireland Assembly does not reconvene to block this law change, the women of Northern Ireland will also soon be able to exercise at least some of those same rights.

‘Further, it has been over six years since same-sex couples in England and Wales and shortly after those in Scotland were able to have their love and relationship recognised in law by marriage. Come early next year, the UK can once again state that it is a leading nation in LGBT rights.’ 

NOTES:

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3078.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on same-sex marriage: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/same-sex-marriages/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign work on abortion and sexual and reproductive rights: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

About Humanists UK’s work on abortion:

Humanists UK has long campaigned in defence of women’s reproductive rights and has intervened in the three other recent cases concerning Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, A and B, NIHRC, and JR76. Its policies and approach to abortion are informed by its ethical position which supports a woman’s right to dignity and personal autonomy and accordingly to access a safe and lawful abortion with appropriate secular counselling and after-care should she choose to do so. It has successfully campaigned to oppose changes to the law in England and Wales that seek to restrict access to abortion. It is a member of the Voice for Choice coalition, theWe Trust Women campaign, and the Back Off campaign. Its section Northern Ireland Humanists is a member of the Trust Women coalition, coordinated by Alliance for Choice.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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