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Gibraltar: abortion law consultation closes

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Gibraltar, abortion consultation, women's rights, Supreme Court judgement, Northern Ireland, The UK’s Supreme Court judgement on the abortion law of Northern Ireland also affects Gibraltar.

At present, abortion in Gibraltar is a criminal offence and prohibited in almost all circumstances, and people seeking abortion must travel, usually to Spain or the UK, for abortion care.

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.

But over the past few months a consultation was held by the government of Gibraltar, which is a British Overseas Territory but not covered by the abortion law of Great Britain.

The reason for the consultation was that the judgment by the UK’s Supreme Court regarding the abortion law of Northern Ireland will also affect Gibraltar.

That 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.

And the provisions of that convention are “directly applicable” to Gibraltar.

But the consultation document, called a Command Paper, only proposed a very narrow reform of the law.

The document proposes five situations where abortion would be legal:

– the current one where a mother’s life is at risk.

– 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; or

– there is serious risk that a child, if born, would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously disabled.

And 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

Pro-choice groups submitted a joint statement as well as submit their individual group submissions to the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo MP.

Gibraltar’s GBC News, posted a report on Facebook that said: ‘All of Gibraltar’s pro-choice groups have agreed on five main points which they believe the government needs to address.

‘They call for the removal of the life sentence penalty, and for the legalisation of informed terminations up to 14 weeks.

‘They also call for the removal of the onus on stating mental ill-health in order to access terminations.

‘The groups add they want women to be allowed to choose their preferred medical practitioner, and for provisions to be made for a seamless service in the event of a conscientious objection.’

In addition, two Birmingham Law School academics, Professor Fiona de Londras  and Máiréad Enright, like others, welcomed the decision by the Gibraltar Government to reform abortion laws, but responded with six main points:

1 – Make lawful abortion available without restriction as to reason up to 14 weeks.

2 – Make lawful abortion available after 14 weeks where there is a risk to the health of the pregnant person and termination would reduce or mitigate that risk.

3 – Make lawful abortion available without time limit where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant person or the foetus has been diagnosed with a condition that means it is likely to die before or shortly after birth.

4 – Allow women to access abortion care in primary care settings in early pregnancy.

5 – Impose a duty to refer on medical practitioners and healthcare professionals who hold a conscientious objection to the provision of abortion care.

6 – Completely decriminalise abortion.

To see their full response, click here.

And the submission from the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion made the following points:

1 – Every major international human rights body is recommending that the provision of safe abortion be removed from the criminal law, even if abortion is otherwise regulated.

2 – Allowing abortion to save the woman’s life is crucial but covers the least abortions.

3 – Risk to the woman’s health/mental health should be based on the WHO definition of health, not just to cover pregnancies resulting from trauma related to rape or incest.

4 – Allowance of abortion only for fatal foetal anomaly is not the norm internationally. In almost all countries, serious foetal anomaly is the accepted ground for legal abortion.

5 – If early abortion is easily accessible, almost all abortions take place by 12-14 weeks, with exceptions. The minority that are later consist of: girls and others (such as older women who thought all that was over) who do not recognise they are pregnant for some time; rape victims who are ashamed and wait a long time before asking anyone for help; and those with foetal anomaly which is not diagnosed until the second trimester, often around 20+ weeks.

5 – The British 1967 Abortion Act allows abortion up to 24 weeks. There is no time limit if the life of the woman is at risk or in cases where foetal anomaly has been diagnosed later than a 24-week limit would allow. We would strongly recommend following this as well.

6 – Conscientious objectors should not have to be involved in abortions. However, they should also not be able to stop women from having abortions within the terms of the law, which can be achieved contractually, as in Sweden.

7 – To require women to say they have mental health problems in order to get an abortion, but then say that they must not be allowed to claim that these problems are related to their social and economic circumstances, is a convoluted way to make it impossible to have a legal abortion.

8 – A requirement to “accept” a contraceptive method should never be a condition for an abortion.

9 – Make training on abortion provision available in nursing, midwifery and medical schools and permit these primary care professionals to provide almost all abortions.

10 – Approve mifepristone and misoprostol for medical abortion and implement WHO’s 2015 guidance on services.

The consultation closed on 23 November.

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.

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