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Abortion Law open letter based on "incorrect" information, says HSC

Abortion Law open letter based on

Friday 30 July 2021

Abortion Law open letter based on "incorrect" information, says HSC

Friday 30 July 2021


Eight deputies are refusing to back down in their objections to Guernsey's recently-approved Abortion Law, which still needs to receive Royal Assent.

Deputies Carl Meerveld, Liam McKenna, John Dyke, Chris Blin, Sue Aldwell, Bob Murray, John Gollop and Lester Queripel argue that the law "goes much further than expected and well beyond the UK law".

Their claims have been rebutted by Health & Social Care, who say the five main objections raised are based on incorrect information. 

Deputies Meerveld, Gollop and Queripel were in the States last year when the States Assembly agreed to reform Guernsey's 23-year-old Abortion Law.

Deputies Meerveld and McKenna sought to delay the modernisation of the Abortion Law because of issues they say only became apparent after the recent publication of the draft law.

They have raised five fresh objections, which have been summarised as:

  • Legalising self-abortions by women during the entire term of pregnancy; 

  • Extending the unrestricted abortion period from 12 to 24 weeks; 

  • Discrimination against unborn children based on disability; 

  • Restricting medical staff who are conscientious objectors; 

  • Removing the need for a second medical opinion 

In an open letter published online, they wrote that other jurisdictions have decriminalised self-abortion but have limited it to the elective abortion period. Responding to each concern point-by-point, HSC rebutted this, saying that the stated example of New South Wales was inaccurate.

It replied: "Section 12 of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 was enacted in New South Wales on 3 October 2019. This does not specify such a time limit."

Extending the unrestricted abortion period from 12 to 24 weeks, which is a key component of the legal changes, has again been criticised by the deputies, who argued that UK Laws were an inappropriate benchmark.

"The UK's 24-week limit is the longest in Europe and almost exceptional internationally, where the typical limit is 12 weeks," the letter states. 

"Guernsey is increasing our limit from 12 weeks to match the UK at 24 weeks without considering if that limit is appropriate based on the advances in paediatric medical care during the 30 years since the UK adopted their 24-week limit in 1990."

Deputies Carl Meerveld & Liam McKenna

Pictured: Deputies Meerveld and McKenna tried to halt the reforms through a sursis, one week before the States were asked to give legislative approval. 

HSC again challenged those assertions but acknowledged there had been "some small incremental improvements" in survival for extremely premature infants. 

"It is incorrect to assert that the scientific evidence that supports the change to abortion procedures performed under section 3(1)(d) of the Law is out of date," said HSC. 

"High-quality data on the outcomes of infants that die before, during or after birth is collected continually and carefully analysed by MBRRACE-UK experts annually, with data from Guernsey and Jersey contributing to this large surveillance programme. While there has been some small incremental improvements in survival for the most premature infants over the last 10-20 years, there is no convincing evidence to support any change to the threshold of viability."

Responding to other concerns, HSC went on to say that the WHO and UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has deduced that certification from two doctors "does not provide any meaningful safeguard or other useful purpose but actually causes unnecessary delays in access to care and therefore recommends removing this requirement."

Health & Social Care Committee

Pictured: HSC has provided its responses to the open letter, which was first circulated late last week during the Government Work Plan debate. 

The Committee also defended the changes to the scope of conscientious objection, saying the deputies had misconstrued the amendments. 

"Section 5(1) of the Abortion (Guernsey) Law, 1997 protects the right of those individuals who refuse to participate in providing abortion care and this right will remain," said HSC.

"The Amendment Law does not repeal this provision, but instead includes an exemption to this clause which will prohibit staff members refusing to provide basic nursing care that is far removed from the abortion procedure itself."

The eight deputies also asserted that, under the States-approved legislation, the treatment of unborn children based on disability was at odds with other Government decisions. 

Screenshot_2021-07-29_at_11.09.09.png

Pictured: The letter's eight signatories all supported the sursis of Abortion Law reforms. 

"Just 21 days after approving the modernisation of the abortion law, the previous States Assembly approved a new discrimination ordinance, which will outlaw discrimination on the grounds of disability. And yet, the abortion law allows explicitly abortion, up to birth, of a fetus if there is a substantial risk of significant physical or mental impairment. 

They continued: "A recent High Court challenge to the UK law described this as "a specific instance of inequality of the law" and "downright discrimination". The High Court’s judgement on whether this is discriminatory and breaches the European convention on human rights is expected in September."

HSC replied to that: "The Committee is satisfied that the provision within the Amendment Law does not affect the rights of those in the community living with a disability and notes the 2018 joint statement from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), who state that access to safe and legal abortion are essential aspects of women’s reproductive health."

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