Amid political infighting between Irish nationalists and pro-United Kingdom unionist parties, a last-minute effort to preserve the country's pro-life protections collapsed on Monday, setting the stage for legalization as of midnight local time.
Under legislation passed in London earlier this year, Belfast has until March 31 to establish new abortion regulations and until Jan. 13 to provide for same-sex "weddings."
Critics denounced Parliament's move as a usurpation of political power, pointing out that the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont has power to legislate on matters not reserved for London, including abortion and marriage policy.
They also slammed it as exploitative, noting that the push for legalization came as Stormont lay dormant — suspended since 2017 over political disagreements.
Legalization marks a major victory for the British Left, which in recent years has waged an aggressive campaign to overturn Belfast's pro-life, pro-family protections and bring Northern Ireland in line with the liberal policy regimes of England, Scotland and Wales.
On Tuesday, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland issued a statement denouncing the policy changes.
"This is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy," they declared.
The bishops slammed Northern Irish politicians for allowing partisanship to trump the moral good of the nation:
The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so. It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made.
Abortion is a brutal violation of the precious gift of life. The right to life is not given to us by any law or government. Any human law that removes the right to life is an unjust law and must be resisted by every person, every voter, every political representative. For Catholic politicians this is not only a matter of protecting the human right to life but also a fundamental matter of Catholic faith.
"We are also concerned at the redefinition of marriage which effectively places the union of two men, or two women, on a par with the marriage relationship between a husband and wife which is open to the procreation of children," they added.
Opposition to same-sex "marriage" has been a minority position in Northern Ireland for the past several years.
After same-sex "marriage" was legalized in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014, the Northern Ireland Assembly held five votes on the issue.
The last of these ballots, in November 2015, resulted in a majority in favor of same-sex marriage — a first for Northern Ireland. However, the pro-United Kingdom Democratic Unionist Party used its veto power to block legalization.
Now, with Stormont still dormant, Parliament is tasked with setting up the new marriage code. The first gay "weddings" are expected to take place in the week leading up to St. Valentine's Day.