The reforms introduced by Westminster in July are now in effect.
As of midnight last night, same-sex marriage has been legalised and abortion has been decriminalised in Northern Ireland.
Back in July, the UK government voted to introduce two amendments that would extend same-sex marriage and abortion access to NI, coming as part of a bigger bill that helps Westminster govern in the absence of an Assembly at Stormont.
The only way the changes could have been stopped was if a new power-sharing executive was put in place before October 21.
This did not happen, although several members of the DUP and other anti-abortion unionists took their seats at Stormont yesterday in an attempt to block the changes:
Here’s a sight – MLA’s sitting in the chamber at Stormont for the first time in nearly 3 years. They’re here to try to block changes to abortion laws. Many empty seats though from parties who won’t go along calling it a ‘cynical political stunt’ pic.twitter.com/J39g5KgJS1
— Emma Vardy (@EmmaVardyTV) October 21, 2019
DUP leader Arlene Foster described the introduction of new abortion legislation as a “shameful day”, and said her party would be exploring options to repeal it.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has welcomed the changes, calling the actions of the DUP in Stormont a “stunt”.
Now that the laws have been changed, the UK government will take responsibility for bringing abortion services to Northern Ireland by next April. In the interim period, women will be offered free transport to access services in England.
As of midnight, there is also a moratorium on criminal prosecutions, meaning police investigations of abortion cases will be halted – according to Amnesty, this includes a case against a mother who faced a jail sentence for buying her teenage daughter abortion pills online.
Here it is – abortion & #equalmarriage bans overturned. It's beginning of a new era. We can now look forward to a more equal future with our bodily autonomy and choices respected. Finally same sex couples can marry the person they love. Incredible. #TheNorthIsNow #TheNorthIsTODAY pic.twitter.com/yypoLkhnDV
— Grainne Teggart (@GTeggart) October 21, 2019
Same-sex marriage is set to be extended to NI by January 13, with the first weddings expected to held around Valentine’s Day.
Campaigners for equal marriage and abortion access are celebrating the changes in the law, with many staying up until midnight last night to see them in.
Belfast’s City Hall was lit up in rainbows for the occasion:
— Caolán Mc Aree (@Caolanmcaree) October 21, 2019
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. ♥️ pic.twitter.com/51F875nNHm
— Love Equality NI (@Love_EqualityNI) October 21, 2019
Abortion has been decriminalised.
We will be working hard to make sure the regulations provide accessible abortion healthcare for everyone who wants or needs it. pic.twitter.com/RYOyLc4T5K
— Alliance For Choice (@All4Choice) October 21, 2019
Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International Northern Ireland said:
This is a hugely significant moment and the beginning of a new era for Norther Ireland – one in which we’re free from oppressive laws that have policed our bodies and healthcare. Finally, our human rights are being brought into the 21st century.
The marriage equality campaigners Love Equality NI tweeted: “Thank you to everyone who has told their stories to help us reach this milestone.”