Isle of Man becomes first part of British Isles to decriminalise abortion
The Isle of Man has become the first part of the British Isles to decriminalise abortion – to the “widespread relief and excitement” of locals.
The Abortion Reform Bill received royal assent on Tuesday when it was signed by Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard Gozney and members in Tynwald, the island’s Parliament.
A consultation over the bill received the most responses ever on the island, a self-governing crown dependency where, until now, abortion was only legal in very limited circumstances.
More than 3,600 individuals and groups responded, including one woman who said she was filling out the form on behalf of her grandmother, who died as a result of a botched back-street abortion.
The new law takes abortion “out of the realm of the criminal justice system” and makes it available “on request” to women in a broad range of circumstances, according to Alex Allinson, the politician who brought the bill forward.
It will allow abortion up to 14 weeks on request, up to 24 weeks in cases of foetal anomaly or serious social reasons, and after 24 weeks in rare circumstances where the life of the mother or baby is at risk.
Mr Allinson (pictured) said the Department for Health and Social Care was working to make abortion services accessible to women on the island, with this likely to start in February or March.
The former GP said: “I am very grateful for Tynwald in passing this progressive law to decriminalise abortion on the island and create the legal framework for a service which will deliver unbiased counselling, support and safe abortion services for women on the Isle of Man for the first time.
“This change has come about after years of campaigning by women’s groups and individuals on the island who have been appalled by a previous system which exiled women to seek private abortions in the UK.
“Abortion will no longer be treated as a crime but as an essential part of women’s healthcare where it belongs”
He added: “There has been widespread relief and excitement that after years of campaigning we now have progressive legislation on the Isle of Man that can be seen as an example of how abortion care can be delivered to meet the needs of a local population.”
Fewer than 10 abortions are carried out on the island each year, while around 100 women travel to the UK for private abortions annually.
The Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation (Calm) said the new law would provide “the best abortion service in the British Isles”.
Stephanie Kelsey, a Calm campaigner, said it was “absolutely incredible”, but that “the work is not yet done”.
She said: “Our purpose now is to keep the pressure on the Department for Health so that the wheels turn nice and quickly – as soon as possible.”
The act says that places that offer abortion services, such as the hospital – but also clinics and pharmacies, will be able to apply for an exclusion zone to prevent protesters intimidating women.
Midwives and pharmacies will be able to dispense abortion medication, and women will not require the approval of two doctors.
Deborah McCann became pregnant as a teenager when she was raped at knife-point while studying in London.
She had a surgical abortion in England and said she does not know what she would have done if she had been on the island when she fell pregnant.
Ms McCann, who has lived on the Isle of Man for two decades, said she was “very relieved” that the bill had “finally” come into law.
She said: “This final law is everything that I had hoped for and more. It finally proves that abortion is a women’s healthcare issue and should be treated as such.
“I genuinely believe that never has a law been so well drafted, researched and thoroughly debated and scrutinised.
“Other areas of the UK and the world can take comfort from our new law and hopefully follow the Isle of Man’s example. This law is both progressive and compassionate.”
But the move was rejected by Dr Jules Gomes, an anti-abortion campaigner on the island who called the procedure “a crime against humanity”.
He added: “The euphemistically titled Abortion Reform Bill will only add to this cruel slaughter and barbaric practice.”
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), said the new law was a “signal of trust”.
She said: “The Manx law has gone further to protect women than the UK, not only by paving the way for buffer zones so that woman can access services free from harassment, but also by decriminalising abortion so that no woman will be prosecuted for ending a pregnancy.
“Today’s approval for this progressive Manx law throws Northern Ireland into stark relief. Every day in Northern Ireland around four women are forced either to travel for help or risk prosecution by ordering illegal abortion pills online.
“Today’s royal assent is to be celebrated but we must not forget the women just across the water where abortion laws remain stuck in the 19th Century.”
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) IOM Government.