AFP-Jiji LONDON (AFP-Jiji) — Members of Parliament in Britain’s House of Commons voted on Tuesday to extend same-sex marriage and abortion rights to Northern Ireland — unless devolved government is restored there by Oct. 21.
Campaigners hailed the move as a “big step forward” in bringing the law in socially conservative Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the country.
However, the changes will not come into effect if the two parties that share power in Belfast, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, can reach agreement in the coming months.
A dispute between them caused the devolved executive to collapse in January 2017 and, despite several rounds of talks, they remain at odds.
Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape, incest or when the fetus has a fatal physical defects.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that the ban was incompatible with human rights laws, although the specific case failed on a technicality.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government in London has previously argued that the issue is one that must be resolved by locally elected politicians.
Any liberalization of the abortion or marriage laws has also been strongly opposed by the DUP, which props up May’s government.
But with no sign that devolution will be restored any time soon, MPs have grown impatient, and many of May’s own lawmakers backed the change.
“There’s a road to go yet but today a big step forward #TheNorthISNext #LoveEquality,” tweeted opposition Labour MP Stella Creasy, who led demands for abortion reform.
“Today we have said everyone in the UK deserves to be treated as an equal.”
Women and equality minister Penny Mordaunt added that the vote was “a welcome step forward.”
“Parliament has agreed to address the lack of access to safe abortion in Northern Ireland. We must make sure women in every part of our UK can get the care they need,” she tweeted.