Deputy Louise Doublet says that a public conversation is needed about what abortion laws Jersey should have, with an overall aim of working towards legislation that ‘respects women’s autonomy over their bodies’ and is non-discriminatory.
She made the comments as a landmark legal case was under way in the UK, where a woman with Down’s syndrome was taking the government to court over a law which allows the abortion of babies with the condition up until birth.
Heidi Crowter (26), from Coventry, is one of the three claimants bringing legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care in the hope of removing a section of the Abortion Act they believe to be an ‘instance of inequality’.
In England, Wales and Scotland, there is a 24-week time limit on having an abortion.
But terminations can be allowed up until birth if there is ‘a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’, which includes Down’s syndrome.
Deputy Doublet said the case would not directly affect Jersey as the Island had its own separate abortion law but the issue was one of the reasons a proper debate about local legislation was needed.
She said: ‘I’m currently in talks with the Health Minister about reforming our abortion laws in line with World Health Organisation and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists best practice.
‘I think we need to have a conversation with the public about what our laws should be so that a range of views are heard. Ultimately I want us to work towards a law which respects women’s autonomy over their bodies and does not discriminate against women who cannot afford to travel to the UK for an abortion. I don’t think we should make a copy of the UK law but we should have an informed debate about what is appropriate for us here in Jersey.’
Currently, the Deputy said, women can only obtain a safe, legal, on-request abortion locally up to the 12th week of pregnancy, unless there are medical issues such as abnormalities.
If a woman does not realise she is pregnant until 12 weeks has passed she has to travel to the UK for an abortion. Although rare in Jersey, she added, it does happen, and is more likely with older women who may be perimenopausal and perhaps did not know they were ovulating.
‘In jurisdictions where abortion is restricted this does not mean that abortions do not happen. What we need to focus on is how we can provide them in a way that is legal and medically safe for women,’ said Deputy Doublet. ‘The question of late-term Down’s syndrome abortions is one of the reasons I think we need to have a proper debate about our abortion laws in Jersey.’
Deputy Doublet recently successfully persuaded the States Assembly to agree to amend the abortion law to remove what she called an ‘unnecessary barrier’ to accessing safe abortions.
Women in Jersey had a mandatory seven-day waiting period between two medical appointments before the change, which the Deputy said could force them to endure surgical procedures ‘completely unnecessarily’ and travel out of the Island at a time when Covid restrictions had resulted in increased costs. The move followed WHO guidelines.