At the stroke of midnight on 21 October, Northern Ireland decriminalised abortion and same-sex marriage in a historic vote for the majority-Christian country. This move toward improved equality and reproductive rights aligns Northern Ireland with laws in the rest of the UK, and here's what it all means: the expansion of the abortion law requires that free, legal, and local abortion services are available to women and girls in Northern Ireland as of 31 March, 2020. Between now and 31 March, women and girls will continue to travel to England for medical terminations, with financial support from Northern Ireland. The abortion law will come into full effect on 1 April 2020. Until then, women and girls seeking to terminate a pregnancy will not be prosecuted, neither will healthcare professionals who assist in the termination of a pregnancy.
"At last, we've been liberated from legislation that polices our bodies, fertility and healthcare. We're free from the threat of prosecution. We're free from a climate of stigma and fear," wrote Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty International NI and UK. While Love Equality NI shared to Twitter that, "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."
Marriage equality will be fully legal in Northern Ireland as of January 2020, and same-sex couples will be able to walk down the aisle from 14 February. While marriage equality was legalised without much of a hitch, the expansion of abortion rights was met with some pushback from NI's Democratic Unionist party (DUP). Although unsuccessful, the DUP's leader Arlene Foster said to the House speaker that "this is not the end of the matter as far as this party is concerned. We will take every possible legal option open to us."