HM Government of Gibraltar has today announced that it will propose in a motion to be tabled in the first session of the new Parliament that the date for the Referendum on legalising abortion will be Thursday 19th March 2020.

This will be a vote on the commencement of the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, the Act which the last Parliament passed to allow abortion in Gibraltar in certain limited circumstances.

The Referendum will be held in keeping with the provisions of the Referendum Act 2015 which provides that the decision reached by the vote must be legally recognised and given effect to.

This Act also requires that an Order for a Referendum shall be signed by the Chief Minister not more than 100 and not less than 40 days from the date proposed for the Referendum.

The Government will be asking the Select Committee on Parliamentary Reform, that will be reconstituted at the first meeting of the Parliament, to consider whether or not the franchise for the Referendum should extend to sixteen year olds.

The Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC, said: “For the new GSLP Liberal administration, the Referendum on the abortion issue is a priority. We consider, as we have explained on many occasions, that changes to the current framework for abortion in Gibraltar are, quite simply, essential."

Mr Picardo added: “As is well known, we already engaged in a comprehensive review of this matter during our last mandate. This was followed by a wide consultation with many in the community. This is a hugely emotive issue and one in which the Government has sought to balance the very strongly held views of both sides in this debate. It is for this reason that we passed the Act in Parliament and have left the trigger of its commencement to the people in a Referendum.

As I explained during the campaign for the General Election, the suggestion that there is any party in Gibraltar that is ‘anti-abortion’ is simply not true. My Government is, however, entirely honest about that. As will have been observed from the Leaders’ Debate during the election campaign, the GSD’s mask slipped on this issue. When challenged, the leader of the GSD was unable to satisfy anyone watching that the GSD has a legally coherent, much less a morally defensible policy in relation to allowing abortion in the context of rape and incest. The GSD’s position on abortion has been seen through by the electorate as no more than a political device, with no substance nor any prospect of succeeding in tackling the issue of abortion.

The Government will be making further announcements in relation to the Referendum in due course. The Chief Minister will be talking to Mr. Keith Azopardi QC, to discuss the terms of the Government motion which is required to be brought before the Gibraltar Parliament by s.3 of the Referendum Act 2015. Further to that discussion, it is anticipated that the Government motion will be brought to the Gibraltar Parliament for debate as soon as possible, giving us time to debate it thoroughly whilst also ensuring that the Order required by the Referendum Act is published as required by law.

Mr Picardo added: “As we watch developments in the Brexit context, we need to set a date far enough into the future that allows us to minimise the risk of being caught out by events related to Brexit whilst also meeting the time limits set out in the Referendum Act. It is to be hoped that whether there is a further Brexit extension beyond 31st January or not, a date in March next year represents a safe window in which we can hold the Referendum and decide this matter once and for all.