Abortion is now legal in Northern Ireland, as the country’s 158-year-old abortion laws were officially replaced on Oct. 21. New laws allow on-demand abortion up to 28 weeks and pave the way for sex-selective and disability-selective abortions.
“The changes will mean Northern Ireland moves from having the most protective environment for the unborn to having some of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe,” said Peter Lynas, Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland’s government has been suspended for more than 2½ years due to clashes between its major Protestant and Catholic parties. In absence of a functioning government, Britain’s Parliament in Westminster stepped in, introducing new legislation called the Northern Ireland Bill. Westminster gave Northern Ireland lawmakers until midnight Oct. 21 to reconvene the Assembly and elect a new speaker. Otherwise, the bill’s abortion and same-sex amendments would take effect.
Lawmakers failed to come to an agreement by the deadline, making it impossible to block the bill.
“Today is an incredibly dark day for Northern Ireland, particularly for the unborn child and everyone who supports the right to life,” said Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK. “Despite the efforts of tens of thousands of Northern Irish people, Europe’s most extreme abortion legislation will be imposed on Northern Ireland. Abortion will now be legal in Northern Ireland on the grounds of disability and gender, and there will be no effective regulation until at least March 2020.”
Also, in July the U.K. government declared that Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion and gay marriage were out of compliance with human rights regulations.
With the passing of the bill, same-sex marriage was also legalized in Northern Ireland. The radical shift in legislation has churches and religious entities rightfully concerned about religious liberty in the historically conservative country.
“We are working to ensure freedom of religion and conscience are maintained so that no one is compelled to act against their beliefs,” said Lynas. “There is risk that churches and religious organizations might be compelled to participate in same-sex marriages or allow their buildings to be used for that purpose. There is concern that schools will be obliged to teach about same-sex marriage and abortion in a more proactive way.”
Above: Amnesty International unveiled a huge model of the word decriminalised outside Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings to mark the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage.