The lower house of the Isle of Man's parliament has voted to allow abortion on request during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The bill also broadens conditions that permit the procedure between 15 and 24 weeks.
The House of Keys voted 22-2 to decriminalize abortion and permit women more reproductive choice at all stages of pregnancy, British media reported on Tuesday. The self-governing Crown dependency currently only allows abortion in limited circumstances — for example, when the woman's life is in danger — forcing many to travel to mainland Britain for costly private terminations.
"This takes abortion out of the criminal code and puts it at the forefront of health care," Alex Allinson, a doctor and the member of the House of Keys who offered the bill, told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "For decades, women who wanted an abortion have been forced into exile, and that has produced a sense of stigma and shame," he said. "I hope this will break down some of that stigma and shame."
The upper house of the Isle of Man's 1,000-year-old parliament must approve the bill. Allinson expects that it will become law within months. In the Celtic Sea, miles from the British and Irish mainlands, the nearly 85,000 Manxians could soon enjoy more permissive reproductive rights than their neighbors.
Women have fought for years in the Americas and Europe for safe access to abortion services; even Germany has been criticized for strict regulations that restrict how women obtain information about the procedure.
In May, the Republic of Ireland, which began allowing abortions in cases of acute risks to women in 2013, will hold a referendum on whether to permit the termination of pregnancies up to 12 weeks in.
Neighboring Northern Ireland, which is exempt from the UK's guarantees of reproductive choice, has been criticized by the United Nations for "systematic violations of rights through being compelled to either travel outside Northern Ireland to procure a legal abortion or to carry their pregnancy to term."
'So many women'
Currently, doctors seldom carry out abortions on the Isle of Man. Allinson said about 100 women travel to Britain annually to terminate their pregnancies at a cost of 1,500 pounds (€1,700/$2,000) plus travel expenses, and others buy pills over the internet without receiving counseling or follow-up treatment.
While conducting public consultation ahead of the vote, Allinson said he met a woman whose grandmother had died from a backstreet abortion. "It was very humbling hearing the testimonies of so many women who have been able to tell their story, often for the first time," Allinson said on Tuesday.
The bill would create buffer zones around centers where the surgery is performed to prevent anti-choice activists from harassing or attempting to intimidate patients.
mkg/cmk (Reuters, High Court of Tynwald)