Isle of Man lawmaker and GP warns Stormont not to repeat abortion law mistakes

A GP and member of the Isle of Man parliament will tell MLAs at a conference in Belfast today (Friday) not to make the same mistakes as legislators from the island, by reforming abortion law too narrowly so that it fails to help women to secure terminations of pregnancy in practice.

The Isle of Man’s Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in 1995 and was designed to update an existing law, largely based on the 1872 Criminal Code, and to make it easier for women on the island to access abortions.

The law allows for abortions in specific circumstances – rape, incest, mental health and severe foetal abnormalities – but in reality are almost impossible to access on the island. The number of lawful abortions carried out on the island each year is in single figures, while more than 100 women travel to England from the Isle of Man for a termination annually.

Dr Alex Allinson, a GP on the island for the past 15 years who has just been elected to the Isle of Man's legislature, the Tynwald, characterises their current system as “medieval” and is committed to modernising their law on abortion.

He is due to address an Amnesty International conference in Belfast today (Friday) which will focus on potential abortion law reform in Northern Ireland. In advance of the event, Dr Alex Allinson said:

“The Isle of Man’s 1995 law started out as a reasonable Bill, similar to what was going on in the UK. But when it went through the Manx parliament there were so many different amendments added, that it became hugely restrictive and practically unworkable.

“In most cases, abortion is legal in name only. Even in cases where a woman does meet the conditions for an on-island termination, it is almost impossible for GPs to make it happen for their patients in practice due to the convoluted system that puts barrier after barrier in the way of healthcare.

“From what I understand about some proposals for very limited law reform which may come before the Northern Ireland Assembly, I fear that you are about to make the same mistakes we did over twenty years ago.

“Let me be very clear: there is no point in changing the law in name only. For abortion law reform to be meaningful, it has to make abortion available to women in practice. If you are going to create lots of hoops for pregnant women to jump through, you may be doing more harm than good.

“Neither Northern Ireland nor the Isle of Man can present themselves to the world as a modern, progressive societies as long as their laws continue to deny women basic rights to healthcare.”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are in breach of international human rights standards and are detrimental to the health and well-being of women and girls here.

“When abortion law reform happens in Northern Ireland – as it must – it is important that we follow best practice from other jurisdictions and avoid the mistakes made in the Isle of Man and other restrictive legal regimes.

“Today’s conference is all about learning those lessons and we are delighted to have Dr Alex Allinson and a range of international and local health and human rights experts gathered in Belfast to assist with that process.”

WHAT: Amnesty International conference: Northern Ireland abortion law reform, human rights and public health – Belfast, Friday 25 November 2016

WHEN: Photo / interview opportunity available at 10:45am, Friday 25 November. Conference runs 9:30am – 4:30pm.

WHO: Speakers - Dr Alex Allinson, Isle of Man legislature; Esther Major, consultant with World Health Organization; Les Allamby, NI Human Rights Commission; Monye Anyadike-Danes QC; Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor; David Ford MLA; Cat Seeley MLA; Clare Bailey MLA; Ruairi Rowan and Heather Low, Family Planning Association; Breedagh Hughes, Royal College of Midwives; Clare Murphy, British Pregnancy Advisory Service; Dawn Purvis; Dr Fiona Bloomer, Ulster University; Patrick Corrigan and Adrianne Peltz, Amnesty International

WHERE: Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast

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