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Relaxed abortion law plans released

Relaxed abortion law plans released

Wednesday 04 March 2020

Relaxed abortion law plans released


More than 20 years after they were introduced, Guernsey's abortion laws could be getting an update.

Health & Social Care is bringing a policy letter to the States titled "the Modernisation of the Abortion Law".

The law itself was brought in in Guernsey in 1997, amid some controversy at the time, as the initial law itself was opposed by some people.  

As things stand, according to that 1997 law, women need to get two doctors to sign a form before they can have the procedure, and the time limits on gestation are shorter than they are in the UK, which is used as a comparable jurisdiction by HSC. 

The new proposals - which will be debated by the current States, before the June election - include three main changes, and have been put together following 'extensive research and professional consultation':

  • Removing the requirement for two medical practitioners to certify an abortion.

  • Increasing Guernsey’s gestational limits in line with those in England.

  • Removing criminal sanctions relating to a woman in respect of ending, or attempting to end, her own pregnancy.

Screenshot_2020-03-03_at_08.51.47.png

Pictured: an excerpt from the research done before this policy letter was drafted. 

Currently in Guernsey, a woman who wishes to end her pregnancy needs to get signed off by two doctors before speaking to a gynaeoclogist. This will no longer be the case under the new laws, something nationally health bodies are pushing to see across the board. No other procedures require this level of certification.

It is also possible today, that a woman could be convicted if, for any number of reasons, she tries to perform an abortion on herself, by purchasing medication online for example. That woman could face up to a full life prison term. On that basis, the Committee said it believed women could decide not to seek medical attention if things went wrong, and could also prevent women from accessing services in the first place.

With regards to gestational limits, there is a 24 week threshold for category C abortions - where a fatal anomaly has been diagnosed - in Guernsey, while there is no limit in the UK. There are practical issues with this, as most abnormalities are detected during a routine ultrasound between 18 and 20 weeks. Confirmation would then happen around 22 weeks. 

Category D abortions - those where there is a risk to the mother's health - have a limit of 12 weeks, despite the UK having a 24 week limit. HSC said this creates a two tier system based on ability to pay for travel to the UK. The clear majority of abortions in the UK take place before 14 weeks gestation and there is no evidence that increasing this limit encourages women to wait before accessing abortion services.

Guernsey aerial

Pictured: The laws would be bringing things in line with the UK, removing the two tier system Guernsey currently has where those that can pay for travel and treatment to the mainland have more choice. 

HSC said staff had found there was overwhelming support for change. 

The Committee said in its announcement: "The proposal aim to provide a legal framework for abortion services that are accessible, well-regulated and safe and which support the personal choice and health and wellbeing of islanders."

On Wednesday 11 March, an 'engagement session' will be held at the Performing Arts Centre from 18:00 to 20:00 so any interested members of the public can ask HSC questions.

Professor Lesley Regan, past President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will be attending to share her expertise and give her professional opinion on the proposals. There will be also be a panel consisting of local medical professionals to discuss the Committee’s proposals and an opportunity for those in attendance to ask questions.

The full policy letter and summary of proposals can be found at gov.gg/abortionlaw.

Pictured top: the PEH. 

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