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Abortion time threshold is doubled to 24 weeks

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AN EASING of Guernsey’s abortion law has been agreed which will double the cut-off time for local abortions from the current 12 weeks to 24 weeks.

Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq talking with campaigners. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28398510)

The time restriction for abortions on foetuses with severe abnormalities has been increased from 24 weeks up until the moment of birth.

States members voted 23 in favour and 13 against on the proposition to overhaul the gestation time limits.

Along with raising those time thresholds, a raft of other measures were also passed, including the proposal to treat abortion as a health issue rather than a potential crime, meaning that abortions will be governed by medical regulatory frameworks instead of criminal law.

It will no longer be possible to prosecute a woman or girl who attempts to force her own miscarriage, and the requirement for two doctors to sign-off on the procedure has been removed.

The changes to the legislation brings the island broadly into line with the UK, although some deputies argued that the so-called modernisation was cruel and unnecessary.

In a long and emotive debate, one of the most impassioned speeches of the day came from Deputy Richard Graham, who thought the changes went too far, and he questioned the enthusiasm to follow the UK.

‘I regret that Health & Social Care have identified the UK as the gold standard to be followed, instead I would urge them to look to those countries that have low abortion rates, and seek to learn lessons from them, they are no less civilised, no less compassionate than we are, and they strike me as a far better abortion role model than the UK.’

As States members entered the court house in the morning there were two opposing peaceful protest groups from the pro-life lobby and the pro-choice lobby.

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The issue also cut across the Assembly, with some deputies arguing for the rights and dignity of the unborn child, and others appealing for a more socially liberal society with less paternalistic attitudes.

Deputy Jennifer Merrett commended Health & Social Care for having ‘political courage’, and she called for an end to the stigma and judgement that denigrated women.

‘People will weigh up their decision and they will do it very carefully indeed, so please at least allow others to make their own decisions, support them, listen to them, and please can we not judge them.’

The old abortion law, which will now be overhauled, dated back to 1997.

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Approximately 110 abortions are carried out in Guernsey every year, with a further eight in the UK.

Acknowledging the difficult nature of the debate, the vice-president of Health & Social Care, Deputy Rhian Tooley, said that at its core the proposals were about improving women’s health.

‘We come back to the medical advice, and the medical advice is what’s in the propositions because the people who should be making the decisions about these difficult situations are the woman who finds herself pregnant, either at a time or a situation that’s not practical.’

Protections for health practitioners to hold a position of conscientious objection were also agreed.

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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