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After weeks of intense exchanges, Gibraltar votes today in referendum on abortion laws

Civil servants are seen carring ballot boxes to polling stations early on Thursday as Gibraltar votes in a referendum on abortion laws. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

After weeks of tense and at times heated campaigning, Gibraltarians will vote today in a referendum to decide whether the Rock’s laws on abortion should be changed.

Voters will choose whether or not to enact legislation amending the Crimes Act to allow abortions to happen in Gibraltar under certain defined circumstances.

The Gibraltar Parliament has already passed the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, which amended the law in relation to the termination of pregnancies.

But that amendment is not in force and in this referendum, voters are being asked whether it should be activated to become law.

Abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar, punishable by up to life imprisonment, except in cases where it would save the mother's life, although no one has ever been convicted under this law.

A total of 23,343 Gibraltarians have registered to vote, with postal, proxy and ballot votes accepted during this referendum.

Voters today will also include 16 to 18-year olds, who have been eligible to vote for the first time.

Supporters for Gibraltar for Yes and Save Babies, Vote No have been campaigning tirelessly to get their message across to undecided voters in a referendum that has exposed rare but deep divisions in this close-knit community.

During the lead up to the referendum, campaigners and many local politicians have declared their positions during emotive and sometimes divisive interventions and debates.

Campaigners for Gibraltar for Yes say abortions will continue happening whether the law changes or not, but that women who choose to end a pregnancy should not be forced to travel to other countries to do so.

They argue that women deserve support and care in Gibraltar, and that this is a healthcare issue and a question of choice.

But Save Babies, Vote No says life begins at conception and that the proposed legislation is open to interpretation and extreme in nature.

During their campaign, pro-life supporters have said the current law already caters for women who are at risk during their pregnancy, and that the new proposed law would enable “abortion on demand”.

If the ‘yes’ vote wins, the amendment to the legislation will be enacted and will come into force. If the ‘no’ vote wins, the law will stay the same.

The Gibraltar Parliament has published a neutral document for voters explaining the proposed changes in the law.

Irrespective of their different stances in this referendum, all sides have urged the community to go out and exercise their right to vote.

Polling stations opened at 9am and close at 10pm.

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