OPINION: Another step along the path to liberalism

Despite an at times unedifying States debate, the fact the new abortion law was passed by such a large majority shows how liberal Guernsey is becoming, says Deputy Peter Roffey

I AM happy to listen to all points of view in politics.

I don’t believe that any political ethos is inherently right or inherently wrong in all things. So, despite strongly supporting Guernsey’s new abortion law, I was very upset when debate on it was cut short by a procedural guillotine.

I know that there are a number of deputies for whom this issue is a fundamental matter of conscience and I hate the idea that they were unable to deliver the speeches they wanted to deliver in support of their genuinely held beliefs. It made me wonder how I would feel if there was ever a proposition to reinstate capital punishment and my colleagues decided to close debate before I had even had the chance to express how appalling I found that prospect.

That said, I have to say that much of the debate, which we were allowed to have, was pretty unedifying. Nothing like as misogynistic or illiberal as the original debate I remember covering for Radio Guernsey back in the 1990s, but still some of the language was pretty dismissive.

References to ‘social abortions’, as if terminations are something women do for fun between getting their hair done and meeting up for coffee, I found very insensitive.

Even worse were reference to ‘abortion holidays’, as if the trauma of having to travel to another territory in order to access this type of health care was equivalent to seven days on a sunbed somewhere on the Costa del Sol.

I do happen to believe that middle-aged, male deputies have every democratic right to vote on this issue. I would say that, wouldn’t I? But it might help dissipate the chagrin of those women who feel we should do no such thing if some of us were a tad less patronising and condescending.

Some of the ideas put forward in the debate were just as shocking as the language used to express them.

For instance, there seemed to be a school of opinion that it is helpful to treat a women, driven to the edge of madness by her circumstances to the extent that she throws herself down the stairs when seven months pregnant in an attempt to self-abort, as a wicked criminal.

As Deputy Tina Bury skilfully pointed out on behalf of HSC, such legal sanctions are very unlikely to prevent such a tragic act from taking place and are far more likely to deter the woman concerned from seeking the medical help she will undoubtedly need afterwards.

For all of my grumbles about the tenor of the debate, on reflection the fact the new abortion law was passed by such a large majority represents another step along the path of Guernsey’s collective mores becoming increasingly liberal.

It is certainly another island from the one which existed when I first became a States member nearly 40 years ago. For example, long gone are the days when the law said you could be sent to prison because of your sexual orientation.

Even more radically, these days we are allowed to buy a glass of wine on a Sunday without it being accompanied by a ludicrously overpriced sandwich. If our lawn mower runs out of petrol, we can buy some to fill it up on the Sabbath without the Dean of the Douzaine referring the transgression to the Royal Court. We can even buy a few groceries in a shop which is larger than a telephone booth.

I trivialise of course, but the direction of travel is definitely towards increasing liberalism.

Surely it can’t be that long before islanders desperate to avoid great suffering in the final few days of their lives are allowed outside assistance to do so? But I suspect that realistically that will only happen locally once it becomes legal in the UK. I don’t actually think most of my colleagues are against the concept – they just want the mother-ship to use its much greater resources to work through how the necessary safeguards can be embedded in such a law.

Before I finish, a brief word on deputies writing opinion columns in the Guernsey Press.

I have to say that I was gobsmacked to learn during this States meeting that Deputy Peter Ferbrache didn’t think much of the idea. After all, politicians writing newspaper columns are as common as sliced bread all around the known world. Only in Guernsey could it be an issue.

Maybe Peter F takes umbrage at Peter R writing stuff he disagrees with. If so, I suggest that rather than trying to censor Peter R, Peter F gets out his trusty pen and provides a counterpoint.

As for my own wielding of the quill on behalf of this esteemed organ, it is something which started during one of my periods away from politics. I would have been happy to give it up on my return to public life but the GP asked me to continue and I was delighted to do so. That was both because I enjoy it and because I think it behoves elected representatives to communicate with their constituents in every way they can.

I intend to continue as long as my services are wanted, but it might help if I answer two FAQs.

1. Am I not too busy?

I am manically busy but 30 minutes writing a column every few weeks represents crucial relaxation and is cheaper than going to the gym.

2. Do I get paid for my services?

What do you think?

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