- 21 Oct 19
The Stormont Assembly will sit today for the first time in nearly three years, to protest the upcoming changes.
From midnight tonight, October 21, abortion and same-sex marriage will be legal for the first time across the entire island of Ireland.
The historic legal changes come after Labour MP Conor McGinn proposed that Westminster legislate for same-sex marriage back in July, following which his fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy proposed the decriminalisation of abortion. Both amendments, which occurred during a routine Commons Bill on the governance of Northern Ireland, carried by significant majorities.
Today, the Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in almost three years, to allow unionist politicians to protest the upcoming changes. However, the meeting is widely considered to be a symbolic action, as the the new legislation can only be blocked if the power-sharing government at Stormont is restored, which requires the backing of Sinn Féin. On Twitter, Sinn Féin have referred to today's meeting as a "pointless stunt" by the DUP, while Michelle O'Neill has noted that "Rights for LGBT+ people & women cannot & will not be vetoed tomorrow."
Rights for LBGT+ people & women cannot & will not be vetoed tomorrow
Sinn Féin will not allow this to happen
The DUP will pretend they are trying to set up an Executive - a cynical stunt
Sinn Féin remain ready to establish an Executive on basis of equality, rights & integrity
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) October 20, 2019
The Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has also described the meeting as a "cynical move" that "raises hopes of pro-life people only to dash them & creates distress for many women & for LGBTQ people planning to marry."
.@PaulaJaneB has explained exactly why recall of the Assembly tomorrow is a political stunt, with no prospect of forming an Executive.
A cynical move, it raises hopes of pro-life people only to dash them & creates distress for many women & for LGBTQ people planning to marry. ⬇️ https://t.co/322Qaokp6Y
— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) October 20, 2019
Before now, abortion has been illegal in Northern Ireland unless there is a risk to a woman's life. Earlier this month, the High Court in Belfast ruled that Northern Ireland's abortion ban is a breach of human rights.
Under the new legislation, the British government must make abortion services available in Northern Ireland by April 2020. With immediate effect from tomorrow, October 22, abortion will be decriminalised, meaning that investigations and prosecutions currently under way against women seeking access to abortion services will not proceed.
Political commentators, campaigners and citizens of Northern Ireland have taken to Twitter to reflect on the momentous day - with #TheNorthIsNow trending across Ireland and the UK.
At midnight tonight access to full reproductive rights and same sex marriage will be extended to Northern Ireland and so will, for the 1st time,be available throughout the entire island of Ireland.Lots more to be done on equality issues but today is a historic day #TheNorthIsNow
— Dr Mary McAuliffe (@MaryMcAuliffe4) October 21, 2019
— Oisín Hassan (@OisinH1) October 21, 2019
THIS IS IT, the day we say bye to oppressive abortion laws that have policed our bodies & denied us choice. At midnight 158yr old abortion ban will finally be lifted & this healthcare decriminalised. #FreeSafeLegalLocal services will soon be reality #TheNorthIsNow - it really is pic.twitter.com/uYoytE4e0A
— Grainne Teggart (@GTeggart) October 21, 2019
Pretty big of the DUP to break their 1,000-day abandonment of Stormont, and all it took was the fear that Northern Irish women might no longer face prison for having an abortion. https://t.co/KjwzSrukOY
— Séamas It Ever Was (@shockproofbeats) October 21, 2019
Read Niall Stokes' reflections on Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage and abortion rights journey in The Message here.