Northern Irish politicians reopen their parliament for the first time in TWO YEARS to launch a failed last-gasp attempt to STOP an abortion law giving new rights to thousands of women coming into effect

  • The Stormont assembly met for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years
  • DUP tried to introduce a bill blocking decriminalisation due to occur at midnight
  • It was blocked before a walkout by nationalist SDLP politicians halted the sitting
  • DUP leader Arlene Foster said: ‘This is not a day of celebration for the unborn’

Anti-abortion politicians in Northern Ireland today failed in a last-gasp attempt to prevent a new law giving additional rights to thousands of women coming into effect.

The province’s legislative assembly met for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years this afternoon ahead of the decriminalisation of abortion coming into effect at midnight.

At the start of proceedings in Belfast’s Parliament Buildings, there was an attempt by anti-abortion Democratic Uniuonist Party MLAs to fast-track a piece of private members’ legislation through in a single day to halt the reform.

But outgoing speaker Robin Newton prevented the matter being considered until he has been replaced – which could only be done with a powersharing executive in place.   

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was a ‘shameful day’ and said her party would explore ‘every possible legal option’ open to it to oppose what her party feels is the most liberal abortion regime anywhere in Europe.

‘This is not a day of celebration for the unborn,’ she said. 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was a ‘shameful day’ and said her party would explore ‘every possible legal option’ open to it

SDLP politicvians attended today’;s siting but leader Colum Eastwood said his party would not support a speaker if an executive was not formed, before they walked out of the chamber

Unlike England, Scotland and Wales, laws in Northern Ireland forbid abortion except where a mother’s life is at risk, bans that have been upheld by the region’s block of conservative politicians.

MPs at Westminster successfully amended the Government bill in the summer to include measures to end the near-blanket prohibition on abortion and introduce same-sex marriage.

Once the 19th-century laws that criminalise abortion lapse at midnight, the Government will assume responsibility for introducing new regulations to provide greater access to terminations in the region by next April.

In the interim period, women will be offered free transport to access abortion services in England.

Under the Act, same-sex marriage will become legal in Northern Ireland in January, with the first wedding expected the following month.

The sitting today was dominated by unionist members representing the DUP, UUP and TUV.

SDLP members also attended, but leader Colum Eastwood said his party would not support a speaker if an executive was not formed. Their MLAs then walked out of the chamber.

DUP Paul Givan MLA had urged the suspension of standing orders to enable the bill to be tabled. 

However, Mr Newton said a new speaker would need to be in place before the Assembly could turn to such a legislative bid. 

Sinn Fein did not turn up to a sitting it had branded a circus.         

The last time the Assembly sat was March 13 2017 in the wake of a snap election caused by the implosion of the devolved institutions two months earlier, amid a row over a botched green energy scheme.  

Anti-abortion activists held up placards stating that the decriminalisation was not in their name

Pro-choice activists held aloft cardboard letters spelling out ‘decriminalised’ in front of Parliament Buildings ahead of the sitting

Pro-choice activists held aloft cardboard letters spelling out ‘decriminalised’ in front of Parliament Buildings ahead of the sitting.

Sarah Ewart, who has become a vocal advocate for reform since having to travel to England for an abortion after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, welcomed the law change.

‘This law change will not fix what I had to go through but it will make it hopefully better for those who follow after me,’ she said. 

Anti-abortion activists held up placards stating that the decriminalisation was not in their name.

Activist Clive Johnston, from Strabane, warned of the consequences of decriminalisation.

‘In today’s world the most dangerous place to be is actually in the womb of a woman,’ he said.

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