Last Saturday around five hundred women and allies marched from Casemates Square to No.6 Convent Place to present the Government with their petition on proposed changes to Gibraltar’s abortion law.
The march comes after months of campaigning from Pro-Choice groups on social media and around the Rock, who have been contesting Gibraltar’s strict abortion laws. The campaign follows a referendum on abortion in Ireland earlier this year, and attention in the international press for Gibraltar’s ‘draconian’ and ‘harsh’ stance on abortion.
In September, the Government of Gibraltar released a Command Paper to begin the consultation process for a change in the law. The command paper – which is based largely on UK law, and follows a recent UK Supreme Court decision to which Gibraltar must comply – would allow abortions in select circumstances. The command paper also highlights several key areas on which the government wants further analysis.
No More Shame - the organisers behind Saturday’s march – stated that while they were pleased to see publication of the command paper and progress being made, they had concerns with the current draft. Specifically, the group believes that any change in the law should be based on ‘evidence-based medicine as the foundation for legislating and delivering these services’. A press release from No More Shame also highlighted the need for a modern and comprehensive legislation so that women do not risk prosecution from any grey areas in the law. The march also served to highlight what organisers saw as a culture of shame present in Gibraltar and hoped to end the stigma around abortion. Organisers and supporters have been active on social media to create a more open culture and debunk common misconceptions about abortion. The march was received at No.6 by the Chief Minister who has been seeking consultation on the legislation.
The GSD – who have so far shunned the abortion debate - released a statement on Tuesday berating the Government’s Command Paper as ‘politically dishonest presentation of [the government’s] proposals’. Their press release suggested that no group in parliament had the ‘electoral mandate’ to push through the change in legislation, and suggested a possible referendum on the topic. The GSD leader, who has so far avoided any discussion about abortion or the command paper, highlighted the need for ‘proper consideration, debate or consultation’ before a change in law.
Independent MP, Marlene Hassan Nahon, who has been hosting drop-in sessions to get the public’s view on abortion and the Government Command Paper, also commented that she was pleased to hear ‘all Parliamentary entities are pro choice, although clear views would be much appreciated’.
Asked about the future of their movement, No More Shame aims to continue supporting of sexual health and reproductive rights: ‘NMS Gibraltar will continue its campaign beyond the legalising of abortion in Gibraltar to endorse what the Government outlines on pages 14-15 of the Command Paper (Beyond the Law) and in so doing, support the Ministries of Health & Care and Social Services to achieve these goals. The ultimate aim is that abortion rates should lower thanks to informed sexual health choices for the sexually active and support for those making difficult abortion choices. We will lobby for proper pre and post-abortion support or indeed for those who decide not to go down the abortion route.’