SNP MPs will exercise free votes on abortion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland if the bill amendments are called to a vote later today, Ian Blackford has said.

Following uncertainty over whether the party - who typically abstain over devolved issues - would vote on the issues, the SNP's Westminster leader took to Twitter to announce the party would exercise free votes on the matter.

Pointing out that the devolved administration in Northern Ireland has not been functioning for some time, the MP explained the specific set of circumstances meant the party would break its own rule on this occasion. 

Blackford said: "For those asking, I strongly support equal marriage, and women’s right to choose on abortion.

"I'm very proud that @theSNP government introduced the UK’s most progressive equal marriage law, and that Scotland is the only part of the UK where couples from Northern Ireland can convert their civil partnership to a same-sex marriage.

"While @theSNP will always defend the principle of devolution, there are a specific set of circumstances in Northern Ireland where there has been no functioning Assembly for an extended period.

"In these circumstances, we believe it is right to give MPs a vote on these important human rights issues. If the amendments are called to a vote, I will be voting in favour."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to his thread, adding: "I’m not in the House of Commons but if I was, I’d vote for amendments on NI equal marriage and women’s right to choose for the reasons @IanBlackfordMP sets out here. I fully support devolution principle but there is no functioning NI Assembly just now and human rights matter."

So far MPs Stewart McDonald, Hannah Bardell and Joanna Cherry have also confirmed they will support the amendments if they are called to a vote today.

The Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill is designed to keep Northern Ireland ticking over while Stormont remains absent. The devolved administration has not functioned since March 2017.

An array of amendments have been added to the Bill, which the Speaker will select from today to determine which will be incorporated into the legislation. 

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One amendment, from Labour MP Conor McGinn, would see same-sex marriage legalised in Northern Ireland if the devolved parliament does not function again by October 21.

Another amendment, from Labour MP Stella Creasy, would see abortion legalised in Northern Ireland.

Currently in Northern Ireland termination is only allowed in extreme cases such as if a woman's life is at risk, or if there is a risk of serious damage to her mental or physical health. However, statistics from the Department of Health showed this lead to just 12 abortions being carried out between 2017 and 2018.