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Isle of Man becomes first part of British Isles to decriminalise abortion

Lawmakers in the Isle of Man have voted to introduce the most liberal abortion regime in the British Isles, taking abortion out of criminal law and introducing safe buffer zones around clinics, in a move welcomed by Humanists UK.

The Abortion Reform Bill 2018 has passed through all stages in the Tynwald, the Isle of Man legislature, and is awaiting the granting of royal assent by the Queen’s Lieutenant Governor on 20 November. It is expected to come into force in mid-2019.

Humanists UK, which campaigned in favour of this change, said it was a great step forward for women’s sexual and reproductive rights and strengthens the case for reform in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Under the provisions of the Bill, abortion has been removed from criminal law and will be regulated by medical guidelines like all other medical procedures. This means women will no longer face the threat of prosecution for making choices about their own medical care. Women can freely request an abortion up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy, and access care for medical and serious social reasons up to the twenty-fourth week. Abortions after this time can also be legally carried out in certain emergency and serious situations.

The Bill also creates safe zones around medical facilities offering abortion services which would help protect women from harassment and intimidation whilst accessing medical care.

During the drafting of this Bill, the Isle of Man Government held a public consultation on the changes. The overwhelming majority of respondents favoured the removal of restrictions, with 87 percent agreeing that a woman should have an unrestricted choice to request an abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and 73.2 percent believing that abortion should be available in some circumstances after 24 weeks.

The Abortion Act 1967, which regulates abortion law in England, Scotland, and Wales does not apply on the Isle of Man. Previously, abortion on the island is regulated by its own Act which prohibits abortion in all but the most extreme cases, such as if the woman’s life is threatened or if continuing the pregnancy would cause permanent injury to the woman. In the case of pregnancies that result from rape, abortion is only permitted up to 12 weeks if the rape is reported to police, the victim signs an affidavit, and if the doctor involved believes that she has been raped.

Due to these restrictions many women were forced to travel to England, Scotland, or Wales to have an abortion; enduring delays, costs, and distress to access services which are freely available locally to women from the mainland. In 2016, 88 women are thought to have made this journey.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘We are delighted that this Bill is to become law. This is an important and much needed step in reforming the island’s outdated, restrictive abortion legislation and also makes the Isle of Man the most liberal part of the British Isles for abortion care and protecting the rights of women to choose what happens to their bodies  We hope this case will greatly strengthen the campaign for wider reform across the UK.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan, Campaigns Officer at rachel@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3065.  

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/  

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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