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Govt and Opposition clash over abortion debate

The Gibraltar Government and the GSD exchanged barbed statements on the issue of abortion yesterday, accusing each other of misrepresenting core positions in this delicate, sensitive debate.

The first salvo came from the Gibraltar Government in response to a policy statement from the GSD, which earlier this week said it would not back the government’s draft legislation on abortion because it was “politically dishonest”.

The GSD said the Bill, by proposing a clause that would allow abortions in cases involving non-fatal foetal abnormalities, went further than proposals out in a command paper published recently.
The GSD argued that legislation on this issue should not be “rammed through” without “full and honest” debate.

But the government insisted the GSD was “playing politics” over abortion.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the GSD wanted to “confuse” the pro-life lobby into thinking it stood against abortion when in fact it was not.

“They are camouflaging their pro-abortion position to masquerade in front of the pro-life groups,” Mr Picardo said.

“In fact, what the GSD has said makes clear they are pro-abortion if not pro-choice but want to change details of our draft.”

“They talk about the Bill needing changes, but they don't constructively propose what those changes should be.”

“They highlight only one clause on which we are seeking the public's views and are open to consider making changes.”

“So, I urge the GSD to think again. To work with us on the details of the legislation and to propose to us the changes they say they would make to the Bill.”

“This is too sensitive and important an area of law to just have the usual political ding-dong between us.”

“It's not fair to the community. It's particularly unfair for the GSD to try to hoodwink the pro-life groups by pretending to take a position that supports their position, whilst they are in fact saying they support the need to legislate for abortions but just in another way.”

“They should publish their proposed changes to our draft Bill so that we and the whole community can consider them.”

“Having had the Command Paper for two weeks already, it is remarkable they haven't yet been able to propose the relevant changes.”

No.6 Convent Place brushed off accusations that it was rushing the legislation and urged the GSD to respond “constructively” to the command paper, which sought to elicit the public’s views on this subject.

In a statement, the government said its inter-ministerial group on abortion would welcome the GSD’s detailed input on the draft legislation, as it would feedback from all other groups, organisations and individuals who responded to the command paper published a fortnight ago.

“All the government has done to date is seek views,” it said.

“Indeed, many members of the public have already responded to the Command Paper consultation in a more measured manner than the GSD.”

No.6 said the GSD had taken issue only with one part of the proposed legislation, relating to abortions in cases involving non-fatal foetal abnormalities.

It questioned whether that meant the GSD supported abortions in all other circumstances outline in the Bill.

The government also claimed that while the GSD was in office - including the period with GSD Leader Keith Azopardi was the Minister for Health - it had backed a practice of “supporting, allowing and funding abortions” in circumstances of non-fatal foetal abnormality. The government asked how it could reconcile this with its current stance.

“It is particularly and remarkably cynical that the GSD is apparently only opposing in its statement the only abortions it supported, allowed and funded whilst it was in government,” No.6 said.

The government asked whether the GSD would support the Bill if the clause allowing abortions in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormalities was removed – one of the questions No.6 was specifically seeking feedback on from the public.

“The clause is in square brackets for that reason,” the government said.

“Some clarity on that would be a positive contribution to the debate.”

The government also highlighted statements made by the Leader of the Opposition, Elliot Phillips, during a GBC interview.

“In that respect, will the GSD now say clearly and unequivocally what abortions it wants to allow in Gibraltar, given that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Elliott Phillips, specifically said that it was ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, in keeping with the findings of the UK Supreme Court, not to allow abortions in Gibraltar?” No.6 said.

“Can the GSD now directly answer this direct question in respect of what the Leader of the Opposition said?”

The GSD was quick to hit back at the Gibraltar Government, which it said was “openly lying” by describing the opposition being “pro-abortion” or not having a position in the debate.

“The Government and the Chief Minister in particular should stop lying to people about this and other important subjects,” the GSD said.

“It is fast becoming Mr Picardo’s hallmark.”

It said it had no doubt that the Chief Minister had understood the GSD’s “considered, nuanced and balanced” position, adding that he had been exposed misrepresenting the position and was now covering his tracks.

The GSD said the government’s proposed law sought to introduce liberal legislation on abortion that went far beyond the limited exceptions identified by the recent UK Supreme Court decision, namely rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

“In effect this would allow abortion on demand through the back door,” the GSD said.

“This is a con on the electorate as they are being told one thing and the law does another.”

The GSD repeated its position that it will vote against the draft law in its current for, which it said was “a shameless misrepresentation” of what the government said it wanted to do and what is constitutionally required in light of the court decision.

The GSD said its parliamentary team would vote in favour of “a narrow law” that provides for the limited exceptions identified by the UK Supreme Court only.

“If the Government want to go beyond that we think there should be a referendum on further change,” the party said.

The GSD also called on the government to state clearly whether it had made a mistake and “clumsily” drafted a law that sought only to deal with limited exceptions, or whether it was supportive of an English-style law on abortion.

“If [the former] they should withdraw the draft law and come up with a narrower better drafted version,” the GSD said.

“If [the latter] they should say so honestly and not hide behind the UK Supreme Court that has not said such a law needs to be introduced.”

“If this is what they are committed to there should be a referendum on that question and the law should not be rammed through.”

“This would allow people to freely express their view on such a change which is not constitutionally required and would democratically resolve this emotive issue.”

The GSD added: “This is a serious issue deserving of serious consideration.”

“Mr Picardo’s statement is regrettable. Rather than adding to the debate it is a shameless smokescreen. This is not what people expect from the Chief Minister of the day.”

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