News | Published July 10 2019

Commons votes to extend abortion rights and gay marriage to Northern Ireland

MPs have voted to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK on the significant social issues of abortion and gay marriage.

Originally it was suggested that the changes could only be made by the devolved Northern Irish government, however, backbench Labour MPs campaigned against this technicality due to its insurmountability.

This is because the Northern Irish government has been suspended since 2017 following a political deadlock, and therefore no voting on legislation or amendments to laws is currently possible.

The change came as part of a technical government bill connected to budgets and elections for the devolved assembly.

The extension of marriage between same-sex couples passed with 383 votes to 73.

The extension of the same abortion rights seen elsewhere in the UK passed with 332 to 99 votes.

Both votes were free votes, as the topics considered were deemed matters of conscience.

Both amendments would theoretically lead to an automatic change in the law if the devolved government remained stalled, although legal practicalities may mean it takes longer.

Northern Ireland minister John Penrose said before both votes that “should this pass, it will go into law”.

Both votes were commended by human rights groups, with Amnesty International describing the equal marriage decision as “a day for the history books”.

Marie Stropes UK, an organisation that campaigns on access to abortion, said that it was “a historic day for women’s rights”.

One of the successful amendments to the bill might make it harder for a future parliament to discontinue parliament’s session in order to ensure a no-deal Brexit.

The amendment requires a minister to report to the commons every two weeks until December on restoring the Northern Ireland assembly.

There was some conflict though on the vote taking place, with suggestions that it undermined the principle of devolution.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader in Westminster, previously described how the votes would drive “a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

It was also suggested that such votes could delay the revival of the Northern Irish assembly.

Some speculated that Sinn Féin, a supporter of social liberalisation, would delay the restoration of devolution as to allow these amendments to take effect.  

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Authored by

Alice Campbell
July 10 2019

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