Bishop Egan urges Catholics to reject ‘detestable’ changes to Guernsey abortion law

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth. Credit: Mazur/

In a hard-hitting message on Trinity Sunday, Bishop Philip Egan warned the island’s Catholics that “persons within the legislature of Guernsey are seeking to threaten human life.”

He argued that proposed changes would violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and the injunction “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, which formed the basis of laws in civilised societies.

“This is why abortion and the current proposal to ‘modernise’ — that is, to increase — its availability in Guernsey is fundamentally detestable,” he said.

Egan was referring to a decision by the States of Guernsey, the island’s parliament, to debate the “modernisation” of the local abortion law June 17.

The island is a self-governing British crown dependency and not part of the United Kingdom. It is therefore able to set its own laws on abortion, which is currently permitted up to 12 weeks.

A new draft law seeks to increase the abortion time limit to 24 weeks as it is in the U.K.

Egan said: “They want to allow abortions much later in pregnancy, abortions to be carried out with less red tape, abortions to take place at home and outside hospitals, and, grimly, abortions right up to birth for a disabled child, a child unwell, or a child with Downs syndrome. How must a person with Downs syndrome feel about this?”

The bishops urged Catholics on the island, which has a population of 67,000, to “get up and to get going” in opposition to the draft law.

Recalling an attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Guernsey in 2018, he said: “Two years ago, there was a misguided campaign to legalise assisted suicide. Now, under the bogus word ‘modernisation,’ an attempt is being made to further liberalise abortion, to make it a lot easier and a lot more common.” 

The bishop, who oversees the English Diocese of Portsmouth, which includes the three Catholic churches in Guernsey, continued: “The proponents speak about ‘choice,’ giving mothers a choice. But what about the baby’s choice? They say it makes things ‘fairer’ for women. But what about fairness for the child?” 

“They refer to abortion euphemistically as a ‘procedure,’ a ‘termination’ with help from ‘the professionals.’ But what procedure can justify any professional terminating the life of an innocent baby? The more you see what an abortion is, the more you can see it is anti-life, anti-human and anti-woman.”

He added: “This is why I am appealing to all of you and to everyone of good will in Guernsey to resist and to face down these sinister proposals coming before the legislature. The post-COVID lockdown is not the right time to ram through legislation like this, not without a full, open and frank consultation and debate.” 

The bishop dismissed the argument advanced by proponents of liberalisation that the draft law should be debated now because it was submitted more than three months ago.

He said: “This is completely disingenuous, given that during this time everyone’s attntion has been absorbed with the pandemic.”

In a joint letter, John P. Ogier, pastor of Spurgeon Baptist Church, and Fr. Bruce Barnes, the Catholic Dean of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, also criticised the timing of the debate.

They wrote: “We believe this is an entirely inappropriate time to be considering such a sensitive and morally important issue, in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic and with such a truncated timescale for public debate and consideration.”

According to official figures, 113 abortions were performed in Guernsey in 2018, with a further three involving Guernsey residents performed in England and Wales.

On June 1, authorities in Guernsey approved the resumption of public Masses after they had been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The island is believed to be the first place in the British Isles to do so.