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Deputies call for further consultation on abortion

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MORE than 300 people took part in a consultation on the reform of the local abortion law. Now two deputies are calling for the debate to be delayed, saying that more was needed.

Deputy Jane Stephens said she had received emails from islanders stating that they have not had the time or opportunity to engage in the consultation properly because of lockdown, or actually discuss with each other about the implications of the debate. (28369730)

Deputies Jane Stephens and Jonathan Le Tocq signed the sursis motion, which calls on the Health & Social Care committee to form a subcommittee or working party made up of representatives with an interest or expertise in the subject of abortion.

They are asked to conduct 'a broader and more inclusive' public consultation on any revisions deemed necessary to the current law governing abortion over a time-frame sufficient to ensure engagement with the wider community.

Deputy Stephens said the motive was not trying to kick the can down the road, but instead encouraging HSC to take the lid off the can and make clear what is inside.

‘Since HSC made it clear in early June that they wanted public consultation on the proposals, deputies have had very many emails from islanders – some in support of the reform and others with strong concern for either religious, moral or ethical reasons,’ she said, sympathising with HSC because of the challenge the committee was facing.

‘There’s a theme to many of the emails that the public feel they have not had the time or opportunity to engage in the consultation properly because of lockdown, or actually discuss with each other about the implications of the debate.’

The deputies said HSC should undertake research into any challenges on the basis of disability and the implications of legal challenges and changes to the law in the British Isles which might affect reform in Guernsey.

In last month’s States meeting, deputies overwhelmingly voted to bring the abortion law debate forward from July to June.

This sursis calls for HSC to bring a policy letter to the States with details of the responses to the consultation no later than 30 September 2021.

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In its summary of public feedback on the subject, published by HSC, 203 of the 305 responses [66%] were supportive of the recommendations of the policy letter.

Those not in support of the recommendations – 102 individual responses, or 33% of the total number received – expressed views against abortion, often citing the procedure as being morally wrong due to religious or personal beliefs. This figure of 102 also included those who required clarity regarding the proposals, as they had been misunderstood.

HSC committee member Deputy Emilie McSwiggan said the the whole committee has been pushing to get this ‘outdated

law’ debated sooner rather than later.

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‘If reforms were to be halted every time a legal challenge came up in the UK, we’d see very little progress of our own reforms,’ she said.

‘If a legal ruling in the UK were to mean a change to our law was needed, our committee or a succeeding committee would bring that before the States.’

She anticipated some deputies would lay amendments to the policy nearer the debate on ethical or moral subjects, but believed the States on the whole were supportive of getting on with the debate and would throw out the sursis motive when the Assembly meets on Wednesday 17 June.

Committee president Deputy Heidi Soulsby agreed, saying: ‘The States decided by a clear majority to debate the policy letter this week, despite an attempt by the proposer and seconder to delay it then, and so that is what we’re going to do.’

Zoe Fitch

By Zoe Fitch
News reporter

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