Campaigners welcome MPs' support for equal rights monitoring in Northern Ireland
CAMPAIGNERS pushing for reform of Northern Ireland's abortion and marriage laws say there has been a "significant step" made after MPs approved moves to better monitor equal rights compliance.
Labour MP Stella Creasy's amendment to emergency legislation linked to the north's powersharing crisis was approved by 207 votes to 117 - majority 90 - following a debate in the Commons.
It will not change the abortion law in Northern Ireland or end the ban on same-sex marriage, instead focusing on issuing guidance to increase accountability of Secretary of State Karen Bradley and senior officers of Northern Ireland departments over their role in ensuring human rights compliance.
During the debate, Ms Bradley said while she sympathised with many of the amendment's supporters' concerns she opposed the move.
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill passed by 344 to 26 and now proceeds to the House of Lords.
While the Bill is designed to address the governance vacuum following the collapse of powersharing, Ms Creasy and Labour colleague Conor McGinn wanted to use it as a vehicle to deliver wider social change.
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Grainne Teggart from Amnesty said it was a "significant step toward ensuring that people in Northern Ireland can access those rights as equal citizens".
"It is clear there is a strong cross party constituency of support at Westminster for change.
"Women in Northern Ireland are suffering under the current legislative regime. That suffering must be brought to an end and it is within the power of the government to do so."
Katherine O'Brien from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it "represents an important step forward in the cross-party effort to ensure that the women of Northern Ireland have their basic rights monitored and upheld".
Richard Bentley from Marie Stopes UK added: "We are heartened by this show of solidarity with the people of Northern Ireland. For too long they have been treated as second-class citizens, with women and girls denied healthcare in breach of their human rights".
But, Liam Gibson of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children described it as "a slap in the face to the people of Northern Ireland to see measures introduced through the back door with no respect for our democratic process".
"We are fully aware that this cannot change the current law, but it is another attempt to pressure the province into capitulating to a determined pro-abortion lobby."