Manx Abortion Law Would Control Disposal of Aborted Babies


As lawmakers on the Isle of Man prepare new abortion legislation, an amendment to the bill will ensure that babies’ remains are treated with dignity. The island’s Legislative Council has approved the bill. Numerous, mainly technical, amendments were approved, but attempts by Bishop Peter Eagles to impose new restrictions were unsuccessful.


The obligation of medical professionals where a baby is born alive following an abortion procedure—to take all reasonable steps to keep the baby alive—had already been established.


But Kerry Sharpe MLC sought to bring in clearer rules on what to do with foetal tissue after an abortion. Her amendment means the Department of Health and Social Care is obliged to issue guidelines for the “appropriate disposal of a foetus”. Mrs Sharpe said she decided to look into practices in different jurisdictions. “I discovered that disposal of foetal tissue is a subject which has largely not been adequately dealt with, possibly because it involves confronting the bloody realities of termination,” she said.


Current disposal methods in England and Wales vary across hospitals and clinics but foetal tissue of a pre-24-week abortion is usually incinerated. Where an abortion takes place after 24 weeks, the law requires the baby to be registered as a stillbirth and the body to be either cremated or buried.


In Scotland, however, the minimum standard for disposal of any foetal tissue is cremation and where that is not available, burial.


She said it was important that the DHSC draws up a policy ’which ensures the continuation of the current level of respect shown towards foetal tissue and, in addition, the department should adopt the element of the 2012 Scottish directive which states that no foetal tissue should ever be incinerated’.


Bill Henderson, the MLC in charge of guiding the Abortion Reform Bill through Legislative Council, said he was content with the new clause, which was approved unanimously.


When the bill becomes law, abortion will be permitted upon request up to 14 weeks, under specified circumstances including “serious social grounds” during the 15-24-week period, and in certain emergency situations after 24 weeks.


Under the current Manx law, abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks, but only where medical practitioners consider there is substantial risk the child will not survive birth, will die shortly afterwards or will be seriously handicapped.


Pregnancies resulting from rape, incest or sexual assault may be aborted up to 12 weeks, but women must provide an affidavit attesting to the cause of the pregnancy.


Abortions on social grounds are not permitted under the current law.


The Bill still needs final approval by the House of Keys, following amendments made in Legislative Council, before it can become law. That will not happen before the autumn, due to the summer recess.

IoM Today. July 6.

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