The November sitting of Tynwald begins at 10.30am on Tuesday, and the Abortion Reform Bill 2018 will be signed by Members of the House of Keys and Members of the Legislative Council that morning.
This vital part of the legislative process does not take place in public – but once signed the Bill is delivered to the Lieutenant Governor for Royal Assent. Only once that is granted will it be officially part of Isle of Man Law – the Abortion Reform ACT 2018.
BUT even once it receives Royal Assent, the provisions in the Act won’t be available straight away – an appointed day order has to be tabled with the Council of Ministers to name the date when it will be enacted.
CALM will continue to lobby for this to take place as soon as possible – probably in the early months of 2019.
But the Isle of Man has come a long way since CALM held its first meeting in Spring 2016 and this progressive legislation provides a template for any other jurisdication (including the United Kingdom and Ireland) seeking to bring their own laws up to date.
Unlike anywhere else in the British Isles, the Isle of Man has DECRIMINALISED abortion.
In the meantime, whilst we’re waiting for the law be enacted, we’ve picked out some of our favourite bits ….
Clause 5(1) states that only approved persons authorised by the government may participate in the provision of abortion services. In practice this will mean the NHS, and not private providers. It turns out the anti-choice groups’ worries about the abortion “industry” & abortion “tourism” really were just scare-mongering!
Clause 6(2) – women under 14wks gestation will be able to access abortion on request. No questions, no justifications, no “permission”. Just control over their own bodies.
Clause 6(3) – women between 15 & 23wks gestation will be still able to access abortion under certain circumstances, including if there are serious social grounds to justify it. This might include women with addictions, women suffering domestic abuse, women in prison and although we can’t possibly foresee all the crises that may lead to women needing this extra time to access abortions, this section of the Bill is where they’ll get it. CALM thinks this is one of many compassionate parts of the Bill, dealing with women who for reasons of crisis or chaos, need more time.
Clause 6(8) – women over 24wks gestation will be able to access abortion if pregnancy would cause risk to her life or if the baby when born would suffer serious impairment or die shortly after birth. These cases are incredibly rare and difficult, but a compassionate society is one that provides choice for women going through them.
Clause 6(10) places a statutory obligation on the IOM Government to make counselling services available for women considering abortion. We don’t think there is anywhere else where provision of counselling is a legal obligation – the Isle of Man is setting the standard.
Clause 6(12) – the counselling offered to women under the Bill has to be by a government-approved body. That means trained, qualified counsellors.
Clause 6(14a) – counselling offered to women considering abortion must be balanced, impartial and non-judgmental, so anti-choice groups offering so-called “pregnancy advice” will not get a look in unless, of course, a woman chooses to contact them herself.
Clause 6(14d) – counselling provided to women must contain information from support groups and other organisations representing people with disabilities. Acknowledging the views and the value of those with impairments is one of the many reasons CALM is proud of this Bill.
Clause 7(1c) states that abortion pills may be dispensed not only by doctors but also by midwives and pharmacists. This sensible provision will take pressure off busy GPs by empowering other qualified professionals.
Conscientious objection is enshrined in the Bill but Clause 8(5,6) requires that medical professionals who opt out of providing abortion advice or services must point the pregnant woman to a medical professional who WILL be able to help her.
Clause 10(1) Providing advice about terminations, or referring the woman to another person for advice, is no longer an offence. For the first time, abortion care is a full part of reproductive healthcare in the Isle of Man .
Clause 13(1) specifies that abortion for reasons of sex selection will be illegal. There is no evidence that abortion for reasons of sex-selection takes place in similar jurisdictions to the IOM (according to BPAS) but this clause makes it abundantly clear that it is never going to be allowed to happen here either!
However, Clause 13(2) makes the point that there are some genetic disorders which are more likely to affect one gender than the other and so, in those very difficult cases, abortion for reasons of sex-selection will still be permitted.
Clause 15(1) makes it a legal requirement for post-abortion counselling to be provided to women who want it. Studies show most women who choose an abortion don’t regret it but this clause is there for those who do need help post-abortion, at any time.
Section 3: Access Zones. This section provides for legislation for buffer zones around NHS premises and any premises where abortion services take place, including counselling. The Isle of Man is the first jurisdiction to legislate for buffer zones so that anyone providing or accessing services feel safe, and are not harassed. Legislation also prohibits any protests intending to dissuade anyone from providing or using abortion services, including counselling. CALM always wanted provision of buffer zones to be included in the Bill, but it’s worth noting that Section 3 was only added to Bill after public outcry at anti-choice campaign tactics.
The Abortion Reform Bill went through numerous readings in both the House of Keys and the Legislative Council and was subject to scrutiny by the best legal minds to ensure it complied with Human Rights legislation. The final version (below) is not long, but it is truly progressive. The Isle of Man has always been justifiably proud that it gave women the vote before the United Kingdom, and more recently that it was the first jurisdication in the British Isles to not only legislate for same-sex civil partnerships, but to extend this privilege to everyone, whatever their gender.
Now, with the Isle of Man’s Abortion Reform Act 2018, it has finally given choice to those people who have been discriminated against, stigmatised and who have risked prosecution.
If you want to read the full text of the Abortion Reform Bill, then it’s here AbortionReformBill2018_Final
If you have your own ‘favourite’ clause why not share it with us on Twitter, tagging @calmiom #abortionreformbill2018, or on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/calmiom.