In early 2016, a small group of ‘concerned citizens’ got together to discuss how they could campaign for a new abortion law for the Isle of Man, and CALM was born. With no money but a lot of enthusiasm we decided on a name and a strapline and persuaded a local graphic designer to work for free on our logo. A generous benefactor – who wished to be anonymous – came forward to pay for leaflets,stationery and our banner and once they were printed we decided to make a splash and raise awareness outside the ‘wedding cake’ in June 2016. CALM was officially up and running …
Although we immediately set up on online petition, many people have asked why we didn’t present a petition on Tynwald Day 2016 – as is traditional in the Isle of Man.
The answer is quite simple – we didn’t know how much support it would have in the government of that day. There was a general election coming up in the Autumn and we knew there could be some major changes in the House of Keys.
How right we were.
Abortion Reform was a ‘hot topic’ before the election and Isle of Man Newspapers asked every candidate their views on the subject.
CALM supporters went to every hustings, every public meeting and asked the candidates whether they’d support our cause and asked every candidate who turned up on their doorstep. We emailed every candidate to make sure that they knew the issue wasn’t going away any time soon. And pro-choice supporters made their views known on election day – it wasn’t a co-incidence that for the first time the House of Keys has five female members, all but one of whom are actively pro-choice.
In Ramsey, one candidate, Dr Alex Allinson, had made abortion reform central to his campaign. We already knew he was going to an ally and sure enough, after he was elected (with the highest number of votes of any candidate in any constituency), in January 2017 he asked the new House of Keys for permission to introduce a Private Members Bill – the Abortion Reform Bill.
CALM was, of course, delighted – although at that sitting several MHKs suggested that it should be discussed by a committee first (definitely a delaying tactic) the new Members voted that down and eventually when the first draft of the Bill was ready, it went out to a public consultation for six weeks in August/September 2017.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. The local media was generally on the side of reform, although there was a view that ‘both sides’ of the argument should be heard. Opposition to reform came in the form of HEAR, rescue.im and later, visits from an off-Island group of protestors which were loud and vocal, and generally unwelcome.
CALM: pro-choice, not pro-abortion – and there is a difference.
As the Bill was discussed in first the House of Keys, and later in the Legislative Council, it became obvious that support for reform was there. The election of 4 new (female) Members of Legislative Council (MLCs) – and the re-election of Jane Poole-Wilson MLC – in early 2018 meant the Legislative Council was not only now dominated by women, but also by pro-choice politicians.
The clauses of the Abortion Reform Bill 2018 (as it now is) have been picked over, amended and added to – most significantly with the introduction of access (or buffer) zones to protect people seeking abortion services (and the people who provide them) from harassment. This part of the Bill was introduced by another new MHK, Ralph Peake, partly as a result of the unwelcome and overly agressive tactics of the anti-choice protestors.
Support for the Bill has come from a number of sources – many women have shared their stories (and we even made a short film which can be found elsewhere on this website) but perhaps the biggest support has come from another pro-choice group Handmaids IOM who staged a silent protest on Tynwald Day last year (the biggest and best political statement ever – to paraphrase IOM Newspapers).
And here we are, two years later with a Bill that has been passed by the House of Keys and Legislative Council. This will go back to the House of Keys after the summer to have LegCo’s amendments agreed and passed and then to the full Court of Tynwald to be passed into law. There will be some dissent – some MHKs and the Lord Bishop voted against the third readings – but we believe the Abortion Reform LAW 2018 will receive Royal Assent and be enacted early in the new session, and then be promulgated on Tynwald Day 2019.
And that’s the story so far – follow CALM on Facebook and Twitter (@calmiom) to be kept up to date with the progress of the Abortion Reform Bill.
PS: We know that every week, every day, between now and the Bill becoming Law, people in the Isle of Man will have to make choices about abortion. The wheels of progress do grind slowly, but CALM knows that the most important thing is to get this new Law right – so until then, and whilst we’re still stuck with the 1995 Act, if you need support or advice, talk to our friends at the Abortion Support Network http://www.asn.org.uk