Last week, U.K. members of parliament (MPs) voted to extend same-sex marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland via two measures that will go into effect as long as the regional government in Northern Ireland remains defunct.
The Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Ann Furedi, told CNN that Tuesday’s vote on abortion was a “truly historic moment” and that she is “extremely grateful to all those MPs from across the UK who made clear that they would no longer turn a blind eye to the injustice and suffering faced by the women of Northern Ireland.”
Current abortion laws in Northern Ireland are among the most restrictive in the world: those who receive an abortion may face life in prison, and the legislation does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. In fact, the UN Committee overseeing CEDAW has stated that Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion law “constitutes violence against women.”
The UK government reported that in 2018, over 1,050 individuals from Northern Ireland traveled to England and Wales to receive an abortion, an increase of nearly 200 people from last year. In an attempt to make abortions more accessible, the British government announced in 2017 that it would begin funding abortions for residents of Northern Ireland through the Government Equalities Office.
While Northern Ireland is a member of the United Kingdom where abortion and same-sex marriage are legal, the Northern Ireland Assembly, a regional government, has traditionally had legal control over both issues. The Assembly collapsed in 2017 between the Democratic Unionist and nationalist parties over whether to remain a part of the United Kingdom or create a united Ireland. If the Assembly does not regroup and repeal the measures approved on Tuesday, the measures will become law.
Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 2/3/19, New York Times 7/9/19, CNN 7/10/19