The House of Keys went into ‘committee of the whole house’ yesterday (6 March) to consider amendments to the clauses of the Abortion Reform Bill. It was a long, involved debate with excellent points being raised and, ultimately, voted on. (more…)
Members of House of Keys play hardball with new amendments to the Abortion Reform Act: threats to ‘reform’ derailed by some significant changes.
CALM is, and always has been, about Giving Choice a Voice
The amendments being proposed by certain Members of the House of Keys on Tuesday remove, restrict and limit choice.
CALM cannot support any of them
Time for a CALM update
Two years since setting up CALM we thought it was time to bring everyone up to date.
In the beginning …
In 2016 a small group of activists decided that it was time the Isle of Man’s outdated Termination of Pregnancy (Medical Defences) Act was updated. Women who were unhappy about being pregnant, or were unable to continue with a pregnancy for any reason other than rape or severe mental health issues, were left outside the Island’s healthcare system to fend for themselves. If they could afford a private abortion, they had to travel to other jurisdications to access services there, or they had to break the law by buying perfectly safe but illegal abortion medication online.
By June 2016 the Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation had a name, a logo, a Facebook page and a pro-choice message: the system was wrong and the law had to change. And we demonstrated outside Tynwald to let the politicians know that we we’re here and we mean business.
We also started to collect ‘abortion stories’ to use in our YouTube film – with an image of 105 pairs of shoes to represent the 105 women who went to England at their own expense for abortions in 2015. You can see the finished film (made by Kara Varetto) here
And we started a change.org petition to gain support for modernisation of the Island’s abortion law. By the time this closed on 1 November 2017 it had 2,795 signatures – and we presented it to the Chief Minister Howard Quayle MHK
Abortion as an election issue
In September 2016 the House of Keys election put the issue of abortion law reform firmly on the nation’s radar. Isle of Man Newspapers asked every candidate their views,
and the public asked questions on doorsteps and at hustings across the Island. And they turned out to vote. In Ramsey, popular pro-choice candidate Dr Alex Alllinson put the need for a new abortion law in his manifesto and won the highest number of votes of any candidate in any constituency.
Private Member’s Bill
Just a few months into the new administration, at the January 2017 sitting, Dr Allinson MHK, took the bold step for a new MHK of asking the House of Keys permission to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to reform the existing abortion law. When it was granted (despite some opposition, including from the then Health Minister) Dr Allinson then sat down with the legal drafters to begin to construct what was to become the Abortion Reform Bill 2017.
Unconnected to CALM, medical researcher Dr Rebecca Rowley (of Liverpool and Keele Universities) was frustrated by the then Health Minister’s ignorance of research from the early 1990s which showed pregnant women in the Isle of Man nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their counterparts in the UK, where it was 25 years since the 1967 Abortion Act. She was already aware of the shame associated with abortion in the Isle of Man and applied for funding and, crucially, ethics committee approval, to conduct research into this secrecy and stigma.
By October 2017 Dr Rowley was ready to present the results of her research to politicians, health care professionals and the general public. In her presentations she was at pains to point out that media fanning the flames of what it says is an emotive issue further stigmatises those who have abortions and makes them even less willing to speak out and that, as she concluded, “Providing abortion as part of reproductive healthcare safeguards the health and wellbeing of women”.
Keeping the issue in the public eye
Whilst Dr Allinson was crafting the Abortion Reform Bill, CALM knew that it was important to keep the public engaged but an anti-choice group rescue.im really attracted attention with their ‘peaceful protest’ in Douglas setting out its stall to ‘abolish abortion in the Isle of Man’. Without doing anything at all, CALMs pro-choice message was back in the news when supporters wrote to the papers expressing their disgust at the images rescue.im used on their placards. Just a couple of weeks later it was pro-choice group Handmaids IOM who made the headlines in July when, on Tynwald Day, a red-cloaked group of silent women (named after ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – the distopian novel by Margaret Attwood, where the handmaids of the title have no voice and no say over how their bodies are used) made an appearance on Tynwald field. This silent pro-choice protest was later named the ‘political moment of the year’ by IOM Newspapers.
By August 2017, the Abortion Reform Bill was ready to go out for public consultation which took place over a six week period in August/September, online via the IOM Governement website and with hard copies available to anyone who wanted one.
Over 3,500 people, professional bodies and other groups responded – the highest number ever to take part in a public consultation in the Isle of Man. Over 90% of those who responded supported reform but the curiously named anti-choice pressure group Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform (HEAR) immediately claimed that the consultation wasn’t representative because it was held during the summer holidays when ‘most people’ were off the Island.
Off-Island interest in reform of the Isle of Man’s abortion law
The Isle of Man is a self-governing crown dependency, but this individuality doesn’t mean it’s immune from pressures and interest from other jurisdictions. Many professional organisations such as the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Midwives and the international group Women On Web submitted responses to the public consultation and there has been UK media interest since the early days of CALM, particularly from The Guardian, the BBC and more recently websites like BuzzFeed and politics.co.uk.
It has also drawn the attention of lobbying groups who are vehemently opposed to abortion for any reason – most significantly Abort67 who sent representatives to demonstrate outside Tynwald, in the main shopping street in Douglas and outside the hospital. Ironically this – like the 2017 protest by local anti-choice group rescue.im – resulted in even more public support for the Abortion Reform Bill and for CALM – whose supporters managed to remain calm and to ignore these demonstrations despite considerable provocation.
Abortion Reform Bill 2018 – now in the hands of the politicians
After studying the responses to the public consultation carefully, Dr Allinson MHK and the legal team in the Cabinet Office redrafted certain clauses accordingly before the Bill had its first reading in the House of Keys in January 2018 – one year since Dr Allinson was given permission to introduce it. Two weeks later, on 30 January, it had a second reading which was passed unanimously by the House. An attempt by Chris Robertshaw MHK to have the Bill sent for consideration by a select committee was defeated by 17 votes to 5 after a number of MHKs expressed disquiet that this was merely an attempt to consign it to the ‘long grass’ where it would linger for months. Instead it is to be considered by a ‘committee of the whole house’ next Tuesday, 13 February prior to the ‘clauses’ debate in a few weeks time.
Read on next week to find out what happen ….
Isle of Man abortion research findings now available
Dr Rebecca Rowley PhD recently gave a public lecture about the results of her research into abortion in the Isle of Man. Her lecture was filmed as part of the UCMTalks season and you can view it here:
If you’d rather read her presentation, here it is:
The future – abortion as healthcare
Some key points from Dr Rowley’s research include:
- “Restricting access to abortion not only effects the emotional and mental wellbeing of women, it can also endanger women’s physical health through unsafe abortion practices.”
- The women interviewed in this research gave numerous reasons for not wanting to continue with their pregnancy but “a common theme was that having children was too important to not get right and therefore (they) knew that they were making the right choice.”
- “Legal, accessible abortion = choice, control, safety, honesty with HCPs (healthcare professionals), appropriate medical care, support.”
And busting the myth that having an abortion causes mental health issues, Dr Rowley says,
“It must be stressed that negative psychological impacts, or difficult experiences, are not inevitable in abortion and are not the norm in countries where it is legal and accessible. The lack of accessibility, combined with negative media portrayals of abortion, work together to create an environment where such negative outcomes are more likely for women. In the parts of the UK where abortion is accessible, there is no difference in physiological outcome for women who opt for abortion compared with those who decide to continue with an unwanted pregnancy.”
Dr Rowley concludes from her research that if abortion is seen as part of healthcare it would remove the stigma and secrecy which goes with making it almost impossible to access, as is currently the case in the Isle of Man. It would also safeguard the health and wellbeing of anyone who has an abortion.
Dr Rowley’s research is one of very few studies into abortion in the Isle of Man, but it’s not the first
Dr Rowley begins by saying there has been very little research into abortion in the Isle of Man, but she was able to find some interesting figures in the Isle of Man Birth Cohort study carried out between 1990 and 2007 (conducted as part of the ELSPAC, a piece of longitudinal research) which showed
- high rates of unplanned pregancies on the Island
- the proportion of women attempting suicide in pregnancy (prior to the introduction of the 1995 Act) was eight times greater on the Island compared with Avon in the UK (the area chosen for the study as comparable to the IOM).
If you’d like to know more, you can find this research here:
Abortion Reform Bill 2017
As most supporters of abortion law reform in the Isle of Man know, Dr Allinson MHK’s draft Abortion Reform Bill will have its first reading in the House of Keys in early 2018. Dr Allinson has considered the comments and suggestions made during the public consultation and made some changes to the first draft. If you’d like to read the amended draft, here is the link.
Dr Alex Allinson MHK has taken the responses to the public consultation into account with his publication of the full Bill to go before the House of Keys in January 2018.
The public response to Dr Allinson’s first draft was the biggest ever achieved by IOM Government on any subject, with over 3,500 individuals and organisations taking the opportunity to express their opinions and to make suggestions on how the draft Bill should be revised. It is to the credit of Dr Allinson and Tynwald’s legal drafters that the revised version has been published ahead of its first reading in the House of Keys.
You can read the revised draft here:
So what’s changed?
Below is the document published in conjunction with the Bill which details the changes made as a result of responses to the public consultation:
And what’s missing?
CALM is concerned that despite more than 85% of respondents to the public consultation thinking that there should be legal protection to prevent demonstrations or protests, there is no mention of buffer zones around any facility providing abortion advice or treatment in the newly revised Bill. This COULD include not just the hospital but also GP surgeries and any place offering counselling.
What can you do?
The Bill will go before the House of Keys for its first reading on 23rd January 2018 and for the second reading shortly afterwards, when we expect a lively and intelligent debate. It is likely that MHKs will introduce amendments – and if, like CALM, you believe that one of these should include the provision of buffer zones, then please contact your MHK asking them to support Dr Allinson’s Abortion Reform Bill, and to also consider making buffer zones a legal requirement.
Follow this link to find your MHK and his or her contact details.
2,795 sign CALM petition
Representatives of the Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation today delivered the change.org petition to the Isle of Man’s Chief Minister, Howard Quayle MHK.
This petition, which asks Tynwald to ‘reform the Isle of Man’s abortion laws to offer women a genuine choice’ was launched in May 2016, and closed on 1 November 2017. Over 70% of those who’ve signed it gave addresses on the Island and a number of those with UK addresses are Manx students.
Dr Alex Allinson MHK’s Abortion Reform Bill 2017 will shortly have its first reading in the House of Keys. CALM believes that this petition, along with the public consultation on the draft Bill, shows that the people of the Island understand that reform of the existing Termination of Pregnancy (Medical Defences) is long overdue.
Thanks to everyone who signed our petition, and to everyone who responded to the consultation.
CALM is delighted that the results of the public consultation on Dr Allinson MHK’s Abortion Reform Bill 2017 show that the Isle of Man is a pro-choice jurisdiction and that a vast majority of the 3,644 respondents (94% from the Isle of Man) believe that the current law should be replaced.
- 87% agree that a woman should have the choice to request an abortion up to 14 weeks
- 84.7% agree that a woman should have the choice to request an abortion without having to report the rape
- 81.5% think that a woman should have the choice to request an abortion if a fatal abnormality is identified, including after 24 weeks
- 73.2% think that there could be circumstances in which an abortion should be provided after the 24th week
- 70.2% think counselling should be best provided on-Island, funded by the NHS
- 82.8% believe that that there are some social factors or situations when a woman should be able to choose to have an abortion
- 1686 people provided further comments on what these social factors could be, including domestic abuse, addictions, homelessness, lack of support and low income
- 81% think that the cost of abortion services should be provided by the NHS as part of women’s overall reproductive healthcare
- 66.9% believe that healthcare staff should be able to opt out if they have conscientious objections
- 85.1% think that there should be legal protection to prevent protest or demonstrations outside any facility which provides abortion advice or treatments on the Isle of Man
The full results are now on the Isle of Man Government website and you can read them here:
And there’s a helpful summary too:
Dr Allinson will introduce the Abortion Reform Bill 2017 to the House of Keys later this year when it will begin its journey through Tynwald. This may take some time, but CALM would like Members of Tynwald to consider the overwhelmingly pro-choice message of the consultation results during the debates.
Thank you to everyone who took part in the consultation.
Consulation ends at midnight tonight
This is the Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation’s response to the draft Abortion Reform Bill 2017 public consultation, which ends at midnight on Monday 18 September.
A few key points
CALM would like to see terminations available to any person distressed at being pregnant, up to 14 weeks gestation and for abortions to be available to women who have been raped, ‘independent of their decision to report the crime’.
CALM also calls for free, non-directive independent counselling to be available to everyone considering their options (abortion, adoption or parenting) and if an anti-abortion organisation wishes to operate or advertise counselling on island, they should be compelled by law to make their anti-abortion stance clear in their advertising and literature.
CALM believes that in circumstances where the foetus has a fatal abnormality, that the choice should be given for an abortion, as well as support should a parent wish to continue the pregnancy to term. ‘Termination for Medical Reasons’ is never offered without good reason, nor this decision taken lightly. Given that some abnormalities (fatal, or those resulting in severe disability) are not usually clear until the 20 week scan, or after further investigation resulting from this scan, we believes that in exceptional circumstances, it is important that the option is there for a termination to take place after 24 weeks if necessary. We would not want to see parents forced into making a decision in haste due to a 24 week time limit.
There’s still time to make your voice heard – this is the link to the consultation.
There is now less than a week to go before consultation closes on the draft abortion reform bill here on the Isle of Man.
That means we’re now entering the final stretch before your opportunity to express your views ends.