Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage Are Now Legal in Northern Ireland

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Abortion and same-sex marriage have both been decriminalized in Northern Ireland, after a new law went into effect at midnight that brings the country’s previously draconian policies in line with the rest of the U.K.

“The beginning of a new era for Northern Irelandone in which we’re free from oppressive laws that have policed our bodies and healthcare,” said Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager.

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According to The Guardian, the House of Commons is on track to legislate for marriage equality by 2020, meaning couples should be able to wed by February 14th. The abortion law mandates that free, legal and local abortion services are in place by March 31, 2020.

Additionally, the country now has an official moratorium on criminal prosecutions, which will end all ongoing police investigations into abortion cases.

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Anti-abortion and church groups fought hard against the changes in the historically conservative country, but ultimately lost after Belfast’s High Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s 158-year-old abortion laws do not align with the U.K.’s human rights standards.

Prior to the law, Northern Ireland prohibited abortion in nearly every circumstance, except for when a woman’s life is in danger, making them some of the most restrictive in the world. Exceptions were not made for rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, and violators faced lifetime imprisonment. 

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