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Furious row as three party leaders call for Yes vote on Thursday

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The leaders of the GSLP, the Liberal Party and Together Gibraltar have called for a ‘Yes’ vote in Thursday’s abortion referendum, in a video that sparked furious controversy yesterday after the ‘Save Babies, Vote No’ campaign raised objections about its content.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia - both speaking in their capacities as party leaders – joined forces with Marlene Hassan Nahon to film the video in support of the ‘Gibraltar for Yes’ campaign ahead of Thursday’s vote.

But a statement made by Mr Picardo in the video led to a formal complaint being filed by campaigners opposed to the change in the law, who said it contained inaccurate information.

In the video, Mr Picardo had sought to dispel “myths” that the proposed change in the law was “radical” in nature.

“It is absolutely not true for you to be told that the new abortion law that we are proposing would permit people to have an abortion up to nine months,” he said.

“That is a lie.”

“It's the current law that permits abortion up to nine months.”

“The new law restricts abortion to 12 weeks.”

James Brenig, a spokesman for ‘Save Babies, Vote No’, said the campaign had taken legal advice and believed the statement was “inaccurate and misleading”.

“With only days until the referendum, when voters are starting to take more notice of what is being said, putting out inaccurate information is simply inexcusable,” he said. 

“We believe this incident does a great disservice to the democratic process and a great disservice to the voters of our community and we are calling on the Referendum Administrator to take immediate action to correct the situation and that he ask the chief minister to immediately retract his statement.”

Campaign manager George Parody wrote to Referendum Administrator Paul Martinez urging him to investigate and issue a clarification to the community “publicly rectifying” Mr Picardo’s statement.

But on Monday Mr Martinez, after taking legal advice, told the campaigners it was not within his remit to investigate the campaign’s claims.

Mr Martinez told the Chronicle he had explained to the campaigners that his role was “organisational, administrative and procedural”.

And reacting to the complaint, Mr Picardo on Monday remained firm in his position that the proposed change to the law did not open the door to abortion up to nine months.

That, he said, was the position already allowed by existing legislation.

The proposed legislation sought to clarify further the circumstances in which late-term abortions were permitted by codifying precedents already established in Common law, he added.

“The law which provides for terminations up to nine months has been on our statute book for decades,” Mr Picardo told the Chronicle.

“Our new law does not introduce that concept.”

“It is a pernicious lie by the No campaign to suggest otherwise in an attempt to mislead voters in the run up to the referendum next Thursday.”

Mr Picardo insisted that abortions would only be permitted beyond 12 weeks – a more restrictive time limit than UK legislation, he added – in circumstances where there was a risk of fatal foetal abnormality, or where there was risk of grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the mother as confirmed by a doctor.

He said the benchmark to permit a late term abortion was a high one and that people should trust healthcare professionals and women alike to make the right decisions where necessary, and where the law permitted it.

Mr Picardo urged voters to read the neutral document approved by Parliament to properly understand what was envisaged by the legislation that Gibraltar will vote on in Thursday’s referendum.

‘NO EASY DECISION’

In the video, Ms Hassan Nahon focused her message on the issue of human rights and expressed her trust in Gibraltarian women and the GHA, adding that “being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion”.

“Having an abortion is a decision for a woman and a woman herself, free from prejudice, free from stresses, free from judgements and free from persecution,” she said.

“This is a decision that a woman has to make with her healthcare professional.”

“It is not an easy decision or a decision that women make frivolously, or free from anguish.”

Dr. Garcia delivered a pragmatic message expressing the need to accept reality and regulate an activity that is currently happening outside of the law.

“If we strip away the emotion from the existing debate about abortion, we would realise it really comes down to one basic point, and that is whether the women of Gibraltar are entitled to have a safe abortion in Gibraltar in a controlled environment and under defined circumstances, or whether they should be forced instead to continue to go to Spain and elsewhere,” Dr Garcia said.

The three leaders said they would be campaigning “vigorously” in the last days before the referendum.

They urged the entire population to take part in what they hope will be “an exemplary exercise of democracy”.

ELLIOTT PHILLIPS

In a separate development, GSD MP Elliott Phillips issued a personal statement [reproduced in its entirety on P4] and said he would be voting to change the law on abortion in Thursday’s referendum, even though his party opposed the legislation when it was debated and voted on in Parliament.

At the time Mr Phillips was the Leader of the Opposition and set out his party’s approved position, which was reached after debate in its executive and consultation with members.

Mr Phillips said that despite that common party position, there were members with differing views on the abortion debate, adding that GSD MPs would have a free vote in the referendum and were cleared to express their personal views on the subject.

“In short, the reason why I will personally vote yes is because I fundamentally believe that women have the right to make a decision as to if, or when they become a mother and ultimately what they should do with their own bodies,” he said.

“It is not for anyone else to impose their doctrine or views on people who wish to make a highly personal and complex health care decision.”

“A decision to terminate a pregnancy often occurs after taking medical advice, seeking support from family and friends and if the person has a faith from religious leaders.”

“This is not about taking an easy option or populism as some jurists have proclaimed, this is about autonomy, health care, reproductive rights and creating a safe environment for women to take advice and to have support in place to provide for termination of pregnancies.”

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