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Northern Ireland Legalizes Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Members of pro choice group Alliance for Choice make their way to Stormont on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Legislation brought in by MPs at Westminster in the absence of the Northern Ireland power sharing executive meant that abortion will be decriminalised in the province unless the executive reconvened by the 21st of October. A last ditch attempt by the Democratic Unionist party led by Arlene Foster to block the imminent changers to Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws failed today due to the lack of cross party involvement at Stormont. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

At the stroke of midnight, abortion and same-sex marriage became decriminalized in Northern Ireland. A historic vote in the United Kingdom's Parliament set the legislation in place in July. Northern Ireland's government had until Oct. 21 to block it, but allowed the deadline to pass. This move toward improved equality and reproductive rights aligns Northern Ireland with laws in the rest of the UK. The legislation requires that free, legal, and local abortion services are available to women and girls in Northern Ireland as of March 31, 2020. Until then, people seeking abortion will continue to travel elsewhere in the UK for the procedure, with financial support from Northern Ireland. Between now and April 1, when the law comes into full effect, people who seek an abortion will not be prosecuted, and neither will healthcare professionals who assist in the termination of a pregnancy.

"At last, we've been liberated from legislation that polices our bodies, fertility and healthcare," wrote Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaign manager. "We're free from the threat of prosecution. We're free from a climate of stigma and fear."

Love Equality NI posted on Twitter, "We're so proud to be surrounded by some of the people, couples and campaigners who have brought us to this point. Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone."

Marriage equality will be fully legal in Northern Ireland as of January 2020, and same-sex couples will be able to walk down the aisle beginning on Feb. 14, 2020. While marriage equality was legalized without much of a hitch, the decriminalization of abortion rights was met with pushback from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Although their efforts to block the legislation were unsuccessful, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that "this is not the end of the matter as far as this party is concerned." She added, "We will take every possible legal option open to us."

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