CALM, the Campaign for Abortion Law Modernisation, is calling for a reasonable approach to the updating of the Termination of Pregnancy (Medical Defences) Act of 1995, to allow those seeking a termination in the Isle of Man to have the same rights as those in England, Scotland and Wales.
“This is all about equality,” says CALM’s Samantha Morris. “It is more difficult for a woman here to have her pregnancy terminated on the grounds of danger to either herself or the baby, more difficult to be seen by the requisite two permanent hospital consultants within the 24 week time limit, and, should she not meet the draconian criteria laid out in the 1995 Act, very expensive for her to attend an off-Island clinic. Why are the Island’s women suffering this discrimination?”
The 1967 Abortion Act in the UK is quite clear: if two medical practitioners are of the opinion that continuation of the pregnancy would involve risk to the physical or mental health of the woman, or there is a substantial risk that if the child were to be born it would suffer from such severe physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped, then a termination at up to 24 weeks of pregnancy should be available, on the NHS, and free of charge.
On the other hand, the Isle of Man’s Termination of Pregnancy (Medical Defences) Act 1995 states the following:
• Should a woman seek a termination on the grounds of the effect on her mental health, she must be assessed by two medical practitioners, one of whom must be a PSYCHIATRIC CONSULTANT. (Sections 1bii and 2). CALM understands that the current waiting list to see such a consultant can be some weeks.
• In considering viability or abnormality of the foetus, Section 4 allows medical professionals to make decisions based on whether any disability might be cured or ‘relieved over the passage of time’, which CALM believes is a subjective judgement based on possible future medical advances and not on the current health and wellbeing of the woman.
• In addition, Section 5 covers termination of pregnancy due to rape, incest or sexual assault. In these cases, termination is available on the Island for women (up to the 12th week of pregnancy) providing:
(a) the pregnant woman has produced to the hospital surgeon and the medical practitioner an affidavit or other evidence taken under oath alleging that the pregnancy could be caused by rape, incest or indecent assault;
(b) the pregnant woman has made a complaint to the police about the alleged rape, incest or indecent assault as soon as was reasonable in all the circumstances; and
(c) the hospital surgeon and the medical practitioner are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that there are no medical indications which are inconsistent with the allegation that the pregnancy could be caused by rape, incest or indecent assault.
CALM believes that the burden of proof to meet these criteria is such that it can be almost impossible for a woman to have her pregnancy terminated in time (within the 12 week limit set by the Isle of Man for on-Island terminations) and so forces an already traumatised woman to travel away from home and pay for the procedure.
No NHS termination can take place on the Island unless it fits these criteria and takes place at up to 12 weeks. Outside these limits, the woman must pay for a private procedure (not NHS) off the Island, as well as travel and any accommodation costs.
CALM was set up following a meeting of the Positive Action Group and Isle of Man Freethinkers, when Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network made a presentation about the work of her organisation which helps women - most from Ireland and Northern Ireland, but an increasing number from the Isle of Man - raise the money they need, which can be up to £2000, to have terminations at clinics in the UK. In addition, CALM is concerned that the 1995 Act is at odds with the current ‘best practice’ guidelines followed by health professionals in the NHS.
“Why are women penalised just because they happen to live in the Isle of Man, which, let’s remember, gave women the vote before Britain, has an openly gay Chief Minister and is also passing legislation which will make civil partnerships between heterosexual couples legal, which is not the case in the UK?” says Miss Morris. “The 1995 Act is perhaps the last remaining bastion of the old, intolerant, unequal Isle of Man, and CALM wants to bring the anomalies in the current legislation to the attention to those who make the laws, and to the general public which will be electing the law makers in September.”
If you’d like to be involved in the Campaign for the Abortion Law Modernisation, then the next meeting of CALM is at the British Legion Club, Market Street, Douglas on Wednesday 20th April at 7.30pm, and everyone is invited.
“We respect everyone’s view on what can be a very emotive subject,” continues Miss Morris, “but our concern is with what we see as an outdated law which is against the spirit of all the equality legislation which is now being passed in Tynwald. As this government is coming to the end of its term, we are determined to make reform of the 1995 Act a priority for the next one.”