After the Lord Bishop delayed the ‘consideration of clauses’ of the Abortion Reform Bill 2018 at the last sitting of the Isle of Man’s Legislative Council when he introduced three new witnesses, the upper branch of Tynwald is back again on Tuesday 26 June to carry on where it left off.
Lord Bishop proposes eight amendments to Abortion Reform Bill
Tuesday 12 June sees the second reading of the Bill in the Legislative Council and the Lord Bishop has proposed EIGHT amendments – and every single one of them has already been debated – and rejected – in the House of Keys.
CALM sees this as no less than an attempt to delay the passage of the Bill and to ignore the will of the House of Keys, by an appointed, not elected, member of LegCo.
Just last week the UK Dept of Health issued their abortion statistics for 2017: 84 women giving Isle of Man addresses travelled to clinics in England or Wales for abortions – and these figures do not include those who gave UK addresses of family or friends, or anyone who bought safe, but illegal, pills online. Also last week, the Abortion Support Network released their own figures which showed a 25% INCREASE in the number of callers from the Isle of Man, seeking advice or financial assistance to help pay for the cost of travel, accommodation and abortion services – a cost which can be over £2000.
This has got to stop – every day this Bill is delayed is a day when a real person needs abortion services which could be provided safely and legally here on the Island.
Once the Abortion Reform Bill is passed, our women will be able to have abortions safely, under the care of the IOM Health Service with no need to travel and no need to break any laws.
CALM firmly believes that by tabling these amendments now, the Lord Bishop is ignoring the fact that women will require these services and will travel to another jurisdiction or risk prosecution by buying illegal pills whether he likes it or not. We can only trust that the other MLCs will see these amendments for what they are: cynical repeats of previous, failed, attempts to restrict the scope of the Abortion Reform Bill 2018.
The Abortion Reform Bill 2018 will have its first reading in the Legislative Council on Tuesday 22 May. It’s Item 3 on the order paper – the sitting starts at 10.30am in Legislative Chamber – but it’s likely that any debate will take place at the second reading on a date to be confirmed.
You might remember that Bill Henderson MLC, who is introducing the Bill in the Legislative Council, made a statement at the last sitting on 8 May explaining why it couldn’t have its first reading then. You can find his full statement here:
It’s worth remembering that the Legislative Council is a SCRUTINISING chamber. The elected members of the House of Keys debated the clauses of the Abortion Reform Bill over several sittings, voted on tabled amendments and the Bill as it is now presented to the Legislative Council is the one which was passed by 22 votes to 2 at the third reading in the House of Keys on 1 May 2017.
This is the final version of the Bill:
and these are the updated explantory notes supplied by Mr Henderson MLC to LegCo.
We agree with Mr Henderson MLC – it is important that before the Abortion Reform Bill becomes Law, it must be right. It really is ground-breaking legislation, which will put abortion services firmly at the centre of reproductive healthcare and which may become the standard for similar laws in other jurisdications.
With the rest of the British Isles, other countries in Europe and further afield all looking at the Isle of Man and the progress of the Abortion Reform Bill, it is incumbent on the Legislative Council and, in particular, the Attorney General to make sure that our new Law can be rigorously applied and, if necessary, defended.
This is particularly important when considering the provision of access/buffer zones which might include discussion about:
- the rights of those who are accessing abortions
- the rights of those who provide abortion services
- the rights of the ‘unborn child’
- the right of freedom of speech
- the right of freedom of expression.
All of these rights are the subject of much debate, and legislation, across the world – not least on our own doorstep with anti-choice protestors on the Island and similar protests outside clinics in England.
CALM is confident that these considerations will be discussed and debated at length during the three readings of the Abortion Reform Bill in the Legislative Council, and that ultimately the Isle of Man’s new Abortion Reform Law will be a workable piece of legislation.
Mr Henderson MLC’s other concern in his statement to LegCo on 8 May was about the definition of ‘health’.
All we can say is that this was subject to long debate and a number of (failed) amendments in the House of Keys and the definition in the Bill is that of the World Health Organisation:
“health” means a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity
This was the definition agreed by MHKs, our elected representatives, at the third reading on 1 May 2018 and we see no need for this to be debated again by members of the Legislative Council
Exciting things are going on on both sides of the Irish Sea. In Ireland the Referendum to remove the 8th amendment from the Constitution is to be held on 25 May. In Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council has passed a motion to decriminalise use of abortion pills. In London, Ealing Council has just announced a Public Space Protection Order is to come into effect around a clinic offering abortion services.
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.