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Abortion is no longer illegal in Northern Ireland

London -- Abortion is no longer illegal in Northern Ireland after legislation that went into effect overnight decriminalized the procedure. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, had one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Both women and doctors faced life in prison for having or performing abortions.

"History has been made. This is a hugely significant moment and the beginning of a new era for Northern Ireland," Grainne Teggart, head of Northern Irish campaigns for Amnesty International, told CBS News.

Same-sex marriage was also legalized overnight. Lawmakers in Britain approved the change in the law in July, and said it would come into effect after October 21 unless Northern Ireland's assembly came back into session and prevented it. Some lawmakers gathered at Stormont on Monday, but they failed to prevent the law from taking effect.

At the stroke of midnight, all prosecutions relating to abortion were dropped, including in a case against a mother who helped her 15-year-old daughter get an abortion

"Those charges will now fall away," Teggart said. "Quite literally, this means freedom for many."

The U.K. will now also pay for women to travel to England to get abortions if they're not available locally.

"Six months ago, when the proposals for the new laws in Alabama were set out, we were kind of saying, 'Hey, we're worse than Alabama,'" said Emma Campbell, who provided illegal abortion pills to women in Northern Ireland who wanted to end their pregnancies. "It kind of shows you that you shouldn't only ever expect change to happen in small increments."

N Ireland Stormont Assembly Reconvenes To Discuss Abortion Rights And Gay Marriage
Members of pro choice group Alliance for Choice and Pro Life groups hold demonstrations outside Stormont on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Getty Images
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