Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has said Gibraltar can no longer “duck” the issue of abortion, which “now needs to be dealt with”.
Mr Picardo told GBC’s Direct Democracy programme that both the GSLP and the Liberal Party would each discuss abortion at their next executive committee meetings to pave the way for the Gibraltar Government to reach a policy decision on how to proceed.
In doing so he set out three potential positions his government could take on the issue.
These are to hold a snap referendum, have a referendum as a potential policy for the next general election, or publish a Bill to make amendments to the Crimes Act which would then be taken to consultation.
“I think it is moving up the political agenda for a reason,” Mr Picardo said.
“I think it’s an unintended consequence of Brexit.”
“If you look at the testimony of some of the ladies who have shared widely what their feelings were at the time that they had abortions and why they’re speaking out now, they’re speaking out in particular because of the fear that the frontier might close, that that might cause problems for people who need to seek abortions outside of Gibraltar.”
“I don’t think the frontier will close, I don’t think anything is going to change, and we might be able to put this thorny political issue back into the box from which it came so that we never have to worry about it again.”
“But that’s not what reality is going to allow us to do. The issue is now out there. We’ve heard very powerful testimony from people about the concerns that they have.”
“I think if you look at the state of our law today, it is not a law that sits comfortably with modern Gibraltar, whether you take a view which is pro-choice or whether you take a view which is not pro-choice,” he said.
“I think the way that our law is presently framed doesn’t really fit in with either point of view.”
He reflected on a recent case in the UK Supreme Court – the ultimate court of appeal in the UK – in which judges found that the rules on abortion in Northern Ireland, which are similar to Gibraltar’s, would be potentially contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, which applies here and which is also reflected in Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution.
“This issue now needs to be dealt with, we cannot duck it anymore,” he said.
“I’m going to put this issue on the agenda for the next meeting of my executive committee.”
“Dr [Joseph] Garcia has said he will do the same thing with the Liberal Party.”
“We’ll have to then come with a policy position to the public and we will have to deal with it, I think, during the lifetime of this parliament, either by a referendum or in some other way.”
He would not be drawn on the position that he would take on the issue when it is discussed at the GSLP executive, which is due to meet on Tuesday June 26.
The Liberal Party will also meet before the end of the month and Deputy Chief Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party Dr Joseph Garcia confirmed abortion would be on the agenda for discussion.
“I want to share with you, when the time comes, the view of my executive committee, the policy view of the GSLP as a whole and the policy of the Cabinet,” he said, adding: “That can be open to many different potential positions.”
“The first is to have a referendum and to have it quickly.”
“The second is to have a referendum as a potential policy for the next general election.”
“The third is to publish a Bill to make amendments to the Crimes Act and to then go to consultation on that Bill.”
“I think one of those positions, or a permutation of it, must now be taken and it must be something that comes from a mandate from the political parties for the Cabinet to consider and then share with the community and take a position as to which way we go.”
“I think it’s very likely that you’ll see an attempt to have a wider sharing of the decision-making process on this issue, because this is a deeply moral issue that affects many people and even those who might be very pro-choice consider it to be a very sensitive, moral issue for them too.”
“I think it’s unfair to characterise those who are arguing pro-choice as those being somehow lacking in the depth of moral value that those who are arguing to not have choice.”
“I also think it’s unfair to characterise those who are arguing against abortion as being ‘a sect’.”
“Gibraltar, when it has settled important moral choices under my leadership – whether it’s been civil partnerships or whether it’s been equal marriage – has not done it on the basis of name calling.”
“And when we’ve reached a good decision, anybody who’s done name calling in the process has been seen not to have been part of the mature debate we have to have.”