The Gibraltar Government will today publish a Command Paper setting out proposed changes to the law to allow abortion in Gibraltar in certain limited cases.
Publication of the Command Paper is part of an ongoing consultation led by the government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Abortion and was shared yesterday with campaigners on bother sides of the debate.
Abortion in Gibraltar is currently only permitted in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. It is otherwise an offence punishable by life imprisonment.
The Gibraltar Government said the decision to consult on legislative change followed a recent judgement of the Supreme Court in the UK relating to the law in Northern Ireland, but which has ramifications here.
The judgement found that the law in Northern Ireland, by prohibiting abortions in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, was incompatible with rights enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.
The provisions of that convention are “directly applicable” to Gibraltar, the government said, adding that responsibility for compliance here rests with the UK.
“A failure to comply with the European Convention in Gibraltar could put the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations should Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar not take action timeously to rectify such a breach,” the Gibraltar Government said in the Command Paper.
The document proposes five situations where abortion would be legal, including the current one where a mother’s life is at risk.
The remaining four changes proposed include allowing a pregnant woman to seek an abortion when:
– continuing the pregnancy would involve a risk to the mother’s mental health, as confirmed by a GHA medical practitioner. This provision would also cover cases involving rape or incest;
– there is serious risk of permanent grave physical injury to the mother as a result of the pregnancy;
– there is serious risk of fatal foetal abnormality;
– there is serious risk that a child, if born, would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously disabled.
The proposed legislation also considered a time limit for terminations under the new legislation, should the changes be approved by the Gibraltar Parliament.
The Gibraltar Government is proposing that the time limit should be set somewhere between 10 and 14 weeks, well below the 24-week limit in the UK.
The proposed legislation will also provide for conscientious objectors not to have to be involved in carrying out abortions otherwise approved under the law.
It also proposes to keep the life imprisonment penalty for any abortions carried out under circumstances not allowed in law.
The draft legislation set out in the Command Paper also puts focus on establishing mechanisms for education, social and healthcare provision for young people and pregnant women.
“This will include ensuring that education in sexual health, values and morality is modern, fit for purpose and up to date in our schools,” the Command Paper states.
“Part of the public debate to date has centred on which material is more or less appropriate to show young people in schools.”
“As our Comprehensive Schools move to co-education, it will be important to ensure that the material deployed is an educationally appropriate tool for both sexes.”
The government is also proposing strengthening mechanisms to provide support and advice to women who may be considering abortions, as well as advice on contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
The Command Paper will be uploaded to the Government website before 5pm tomorrow. The consultation period ends on Thursday October 25.
Publication of the Command Paper comes as campaigners on both sides of the debate continued to champion support in the community for their respective positions.
On Wednesday night, over 200 pro-life campaigners of all ages, religions and walks of life held the last of their night-time vigils outside No.6 Convent Place.
The Pro-Life Movement’s chairwoman, Karenza Morillo, announced that so far over 3,500 signatures had been collected in support of the proposition that any changes in the law “must recognise the pre-born’s indisputable right to life”.
“The number of signatories is set to increase substantially in coming weeks and represents a very sizeable proportion of the Gibraltarian electorate,” the group added in a statement.
“It is therefore expected that the government of Gibraltar will take this into account in any change to the current law.”
After meeting with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his team yesterday, the pro-life campaign reiterated its position that “…there is no such thing as a safe abortion because a human life is lost during every such intervention, that of the child.”
“So far this year there have been more than 32 million abortions worldwide,” the group said.
“This is a figure that should concern every right thinking citizen.”
“In the UK there have been 8 million abortions since 1967 and in the US over 50 million abortions since 1973.”
“The first draft of the Command Paper was presented to us and explained in great detail.”
“Further drafts are to be posted on the government website and the Gibraltar Pro Life Movement will be preparing submissions in consultation with its membership and all other pro-life proponents.”
For their part, pro-choice campaigners also continued with their initiatives this week.
Unite the Union and Equality Rights Group’s joint campaign team, which launched the demands for legislative change to existing Gibraltar law on women’s reproductive rights last May, met with the Chief Minister and his team to review and discuss the government’s proposals for change in this area of law.
“The joint Unite/Equality Rights Group Pro-Choice Campaign team will be carefully studying Government’s proposals as contained in the Command Paper,” a spokesman said.
“It is incumbent upon us to give a considered and thoughtful response.”
“We shall, therefore, be studying the proposals and advancing our detailed appreciations to Government directly, as well as publicly to the community at large in due course.”
“In the meantime, we have expressed our thanks to the Government team expressly for the manner in which, despite extraordinary political pressures at this time with Brexit and other matters, they have unhesitatingly responded to the call of this community to attend to this long-standing issue. Credit where it is due.”
Separately, the No More Shame group marked International Safe Abortion Day with a stall at the Piazza, where members also welcomed the opening of the GHA’s new Well Person Unit.
“No More Shame applauds this much needed service and hopes that an abortion service will become a part of it,” the group said.