Stop Gendercide has renewed its expression of profound concern towards a new Bill on the Isle of Man, which would legalise sex-selective abortion formally up to 14 weeks, but practically also up to 24 weeks. The campaign has analysed and recommends urgent changes to the Bill and that it be further submitted to the analysis and amendation of a Tynwald Committee.
Last September, Stop Gendercide responded to the Consultation held through the Office of the Clerk of Tynwald (the Parliament of the Isle of Man) on a Bill proposed by member of the House of Keys Dr. Alex Allinson MHK that seeks to reform the Island’s abortion laws. In December, Dr. Allinson approached respondents to the Consultation, asking them to submit again on an amended version of his Bill.
Stop Gendercide obliged, sending him an updated analysis of his Bill. Now, the campaign is publishing our analysis of the Bill as it is being submitted to Tynwald (available in electronic and PDF formats), in which the campaign reiterates its findings that if passed in its current form the Bill would introduce abortion on demand for any reason up to 14 weeks. This would formally legalise sex-selective abortion for the first time in the British Isles.
No change has been made to Stop Gendercide’s conclusions about Dr. Allinson’s abortion Bill, because no changes have been made that would alter the campaign’s conclusions about it. Despite having promised to “make sure the legislation outlaws any abortion of female foetuses purely because of their gender” – which was at least one corrective prescribed in the previous analysis – the latest version of the Bill contains no such amendment. Even if it did, without the other two prescribed amendments – the omission of abortion on demand and abortion on social grounds – sex-selection would still be a legal and practical possibility.
These concerns were raised by the campaign due to improved forms of prenatal testing, which are already available in private healthcare but are now being made available through the NHS in England as part of the Foetal Anomaly Screening Programme (FASP). By extension, they are becoming accessible on the Manx NHSC also. These tests are now becoming so advanced that they will be able to detect foetal sex as early as 7 weeks, an identification that has hitherto only been possible towards the end of the second trimester, rather than (as now) just over half-way through the first. As UK Government officials have already admitted, such testing would allow for sex-selective abortion to be much further enabled than it has been hitherto.
Dr. Allinson’s abortion Bill also seeks to introduce more limited abortion up to 24 weeks. The limitations in place however, are so ill-defined in their statutory language that they promise to introduce de facto abortion on demand throughout the second trimester. This risks replicating the situation in the UK, where women have sought and received sex-selective abortions thanks to the ‘social clause’ in the Abortion Act 1967, which has created abortion on demand.
In fact, the situation that the proposed Manx abortion Bill would introduce into the Isle of Man would be worse than the situation in Great Britain, as it would allow even fewer procedural safeguards to abuse. The proposed Bill would only require one doctor to check that the woman presenting for abortion fits the legal criteria, rather than the two as currently required in both Manx and British law. This would make it easier for sex-selective abortions to take place under loosely-defined elements of the law, as has been shown to be possible in the UK.
Although the Bill limits access to abortion on the Isle of Man to Manx residents, the lax process that it would introduce also raises concerns of the possibility of sex-selective ‘abortion tourism’ from the UK using fake Manx addresses.
Details of all these issues can be found in the aforementioned Stop Gendercide analysis of the draft Bill, attached and also available on stopgendercide.org. The Stop Gendercide’s campaign’s conclusions remain that if the Bill is passed, sex-selective abortion will soon be enabled on the Isle of Man unless three statutory changes are made to it:
- Addition of an explicit statutory prohibition on sex-selective abortion.
- Preferably, omission of abortion on demand and for any reason before 14 weeks, as the draft Bill would currently affect through clause 6(2). OR
- Minimally, limitation of this to below 7 weeks (which, due to future improvements in pre-natal testing, would be an imperfect but at least temporarily effective safeguard).
- The omission of abortion on non-specific or non-vital ‘health’ grounds, or ‘social’ grounds, as the draft Bill would currently affect through clauses 6(4) and 6(7).
Finally, Stop Gendercide recommends examination of the Bill by Tynwald in Committee, so that Members of Tynwald Court in their respective Houses and together may ascertain the full consequences of its provisions, and thereby consider and debate it in the most informed manner.
Rani Bilkhu, Founder of Jeena International and spokesperson for Stop Gendercide, said:
“We are deeply worried by this abortion Bill on the Isle of Man. The fact that such potential legislation contains such irresponsible provisions, and that previous analysis of it has not been listened to in its revision, significantly compromises our confidence in the drafters. For the Isle of Man to legalise sex-selection would send a terrible message and risk abortion tourism to the Island due to the permissive regulatory regime it would create.
This Manx abortion Bill, as currently drafted, would practically enable abortion on the grounds of sex-selection. New prenatal testing is allowing earlier detection of foetal sex, and the law serves an important role in making sure it is not abused so as to allow those who wish to discriminate against baby girls to do so. Yet by allowing abortion on demand up to 14 weeks would give an easy window for sex-selection to occur, as would the loosely defined grounds upon which post-14 weeks abortions would be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks.
We appeal to Tynwald members to oppose any Bill, or any provision within it, that would enable the unacceptable sexist abuse of sex-selective abortion. Those of us who work with vulnerable women know that sex-selective abortion is a reality in the UK, a fact we have been pointing to for the past two-and-a-half years. This would doubtless drive demand for sex-selection to be accessed in the Isle of Man as the proposed system could easily be abused either by Manx residents, or visitors from the UK or elsewhere.
The battle to clarify and strengthen UK law in this area would undoubtedly be undermined by the formal legalisation of sex-selection elsewhere in the British Isles. We call on the people of the Isle of Man, and members of the Tynwald, to ensure that any reforms take place in such a way as to not enable femicidal misogyny. It is imperative to heed concerns about this danger, not only from UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee about the practices enabled by improved prenatal testing, but also those of us who have long experience campaigning against the misogynistic abuse of sex-selective abortion. If they do so, they can make sure that their laws do not enable deeply harmful forms of sexist discrimination”.
- For interviews, contact http://www.stopgendercide.org/ spokeswomen Rani Bilkhu: + 44 (0)7958 603 541, firstname.lastname@example.org
- A feature video on the Stop Gendercide campaign including interviews with Jasvinder Sanghera and Rani Bilkhu is available here (the original video file is available on request): http://youtu.be/nJCMkb8R1Rw.