The Isle of Man has a reputation for being more socially conservative than the UK (it's a 'self-governing British Crown dependency', fact fans). Homosexuality was only legalised on the Island in 1992, and abortion is currently available in limited circumstances, but the process for attaining one is difficult and length. But while the island it may be late to the progressive party, it has slowly begun to change its oppressive laws, actually going beyond that of the UK. Most recently, they have put through a bill to alter abortion laws, decriminalizing it in a move that will make their regulations around abortion more relaxed than the UK.
Under current Isle Of Man law, abortion was only legal in limited circumstances, forcing 100 women every year to travel the UK, spending near £2,000 in the process, to obtain a private abortion. However, the new private member’s bill will decriminislise abortion and make it available ‘on request’ to women in a range of circumstances.
The legislation allows 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 circumstances where the life of the mother or baby is at risk.
Counselling must also be offered before and after the procedure and the bill will legislate for 'access zones' where abortion protestors will be unable to harass patients on the pavements of clinics. However, there is a clause that allows medical professionals to opt out of delivering treatment if it’s not in line with their personal views.
Currently, UK law dictates that a woman can get an abortion up to 24 weeks if two medical practitioners agree that continuing it would result in greater physical or mental health injury to the pregnant woman, existing children or her family than if the pregnancy were to continue- or that there is substantial risk of physical or mental abnormality to the unborn child.
Set out by the Abortion Act in 1967, the Isle of Man never adopted the law, as they are a self-governing crown dependency. However, by developing their own bill, the law change could result in abortion regulations more progressive than the UK. Dr. Alex Allinson, GP and member of the House of Keys (equivalent to the House of Commons in the UK), said:
‘By passing progressive legislation, the Isle of Man can change its image, I think a lot of people still feel that the island is slightly backwards and unusual. We’ve been late in adopting quite a lot of social policies. But the [abortion reform] bill, if passed as it is, is far more progressive than the UK’s abortion legislation.’
The bill is set to have its third reading on Tuesday, although Allison hopes this will be ‘just a formality’, in which case the law could be passed within weeks, and in his words will ‘right a wrong done to Isle of Man women for over 50 years’.
This comes after two years of campaigning by the Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation (Calm). Stephanie Kelsey, from Calm, told the Press association that she hopes the bill will be ‘held up as an example of progressive, yet caring legislation that other countries could copy’.
‘It will be a really proud moment for the Isle of Man’, she continued ‘and for me personally for a Manx woman, to be able to change something which has affected so many women negatively up until now, and which could really change women’s lives and also women’s perception of how the Isle of Man cares for them and feels about them.’
The bill is set to be discussed tomorrow and if passed will go to the Legislative Council, the House of Lords equivalent, before being given royal assent.