Spurred by the result of the Irish referendum on abortion, the Equality Rights Group signalled this weekend that it will intensify its lobbying for a change in Gibraltar’s law too.
In a referendum on Friday, Ireland voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one, a landslide victory that astonished campaigners as citizens of every age and background demanded the change they had spent decades fighting for.
The vote overturns a law which, for decades, has forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations that they could not legally have in their own country. “Yes” campaigners had argued that with pills now being bought illegally online abortion was already a reality in Ireland.
In Gibraltar, where abortion is a crime except in very narrowly-defined circumstances, the result of the Irish referendum will renew debate around a subject that has already proved deeply emotive.
The ERG said the core issue was the right for all women throughout Gibraltar to be free to decide for themselves when it comes to their reproductive rights, and to have that choice respected.
The group noted that the UK had first legislated in this area in 1967 and that Gibraltar had “for far too long tolerated” a law that left pregnant women seeking a termination with little option but to go to Spain or elsewhere, sometimes in circumstances out of their control.
“Whether you’re in favour or against terminations – and many will have varying thoughts on this delicate matter – it’s a question that only pregnant women themselves have the ultimate right to decide, though the majority of such women listen to and take guidance from those around them who may also be touched by their decision,” said ERG chairman Felix Alvarez.
“They should no longer be treated as criminals.”
“What they need is assistance from the law and from the medical authorities, guaranteeing thus their safety and care within their own country.”
“Women in Gibraltar deserve a law that provides that space of compassion and care, and not the backroom turn-a-blind-eye negligence currently in place.”
The ERG said it would campaign with other like-minded individuals and groups to proactively engage with legislators to amend the “outdated provisions” of the Crimes Act 2011, which makes abortion a criminal offence punishable by life imprisonment.
It said women must be “unequivocally free” to decide for themselves “without imposition”.
“While the recent outcome of the Irish repeal vote precisely on this question is certainly a backdrop, women in Gibraltar need no further reference but their own experience and needs, and the pro-choice campaign will be stepping up and rolling out action and pressure on our legislators in a planned and effective fashion to demand a swift resolution on this sad state of affairs,” Mr Alvarez said.
“The delays have been long enough and excuses will no longer do.”
He added: “The Equality Rights Group is not going to sit back and accept that Gibraltar should continue having one of the most negative laws in Europe on the issue of women’s reproductive rights.”
“Not whilst I’m chairman, and certainly not when all that’s on the table is personal choice on such an intimate matter.”
“No-one, absolutely no-one, has the right to impose on women in this terrain.”