LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Isle of Man is set to decriminalize abortion in a dramatic reform which will give the tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea some of Europe’s most liberal abortion laws.
The lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday to allow abortion on request during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and to broaden conditions for permitting abortions between 15 and 24 weeks.
The self-governing British Crown dependency currently only allows abortion in limited circumstances - for example where the mother’s life is in danger - forcing many women to travel to Britain for costly private terminations.
“This (reform) takes abortion out of the criminal code and puts it at the forefront of healthcare,” said member of parliament Alex Allinson, whose private member’s bill received almost unanimous backing.
“For decades, women who wanted an abortion have been forced into exile, and that has produced a sense of stigma and shame. I hope this will break down some of that stigma and shame,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The vote comes as nearby Ireland prepares to hold a referendum on May 25 on liberalizing its own abortion laws - some of the strictest in the world.
Allinson, a doctor, said a public consultation on the Isle of Man - home to nearly 85,000 people - had shown overwhelming support for reform.
One woman said she took part in the consultation on behalf of her grandmother who died from a botched back-street 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.
The bill also provides for the creation of buffer zones around the island’s hospital, and potentially doctors’ surgeries, to prevent harassment from protesters.
Allinson said this was to avoid the problems seen in parts of Britain where anti-abortion campaigners have intimidated women using abortion services.
The Isle of Man’s strict abortion law means just a handful of terminations are carried out on the island each year.
Allinson said around 100 women travel to Britain annually for private abortions, costing up to 1,500 pounds ($2,000) on top of travel expenses, while others buy pills over the internet, without receiving counseling or follow-up treatment.
The bill still has to be approved by the parliament’s upper branch, but Allinson expected it would become law within months.
Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.