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Govt commences abortion legislation

The Minister for Health, Samantha Sacramento, commenced legislation on Thursday that will permit abortions to be carried out by GHA doctors in St Bernard’s Hospital.

Along with the commencement of the law, the Abortion Regulations 2021 were also published in the Gibraltar Gazette that set out the parameters under which terminations will be permitted in Gibraltar.

“Although some may disagree with the result of the referendum, the result was clear and it imposed a duty on me to commence this legislation within 28 days,” Ms Sacramento said.

“Before doing so I met with healthcare professionals within the GHA to ensure that a safe, non-judgmental, confidential and holistic service is available to women who seek abortions and that such service is undertaken at St Bernard’s Hospital strictly within the framework set out in the law.”

“There is a strong emphasis in the pathways on therapeutic support being made available by GHA mental health services upon referral at any stage for those who may wish to avail themselves from this.”

“I am now assured that this is all in place and as such have commenced both the legislation, in my role as Minister for Justice, and the service, as Minister with responsibility for Health.”

The GHA will also start the provision of an abortion service which will include abortions up to the 12th week of gestation in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

Later abortions will also be possible under the Act where the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or if there is a substantial risk that the foetus is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality, it added.

The service will be provided by the GHA’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at St. Bernard’s Hospital, strictly within the scope of the new law. 

“In providing this holistic service, the Gibraltar Health Authority will ensure that abortion care is not just about ending the pregnancy but that it is also about supporting the women involved whether they decide to request an abortion or decide not to do so,” the statement added.

“Support will be offered and made available to those who wish to take it up, before or after an abortion.”

“The service may be accessed by women direct, by calling a new number that has been set up for this purpose which is a confidential direct line with a voice mail and call back facility or, if the woman prefers, by GP (or other healthcare professional’s) referral.”

Women accessing the service will be offered non-judgmental medically accurate information, an optional cooling-off time and will also be offered non-directional counselling by the GHA mental health services, the statement read.

If, following the consultation, the woman decides to not request an abortion she will be referred for antenatal care and offered such support as she requires, it added.

“If, following the consultation, the woman’s choice is to continue to request an abortion it will (in non-emergency cases) be for two Gibraltar Health Authority doctors to be satisfied, in good faith that the case falls within the law,” the Government spokesman said.

“If the doctors so certify the most appropriate method of termination will be discussed with the woman. Counselling and support will be available.”

Steps have also been taken to ensure the privacy of the individual, with the name of the individual only known to a handful of people, including the medical practitioners, the Director of Public Health, and his staff when recording that information.

In the event that the termination breaches the legislation, this information will be made public to the Director of Public Prosecutions and their staff, and a police officer not lower in rank than a Superintendent, and staff authorised by them.

“Training has already been undertaken by clinical professionals in the GHA to ensure that all services are seamless and coordinated,” Ms Sacramento added.

“I have also met and consulted with representatives of the Gibraltar Pro Life Movement with a view to formalising a partnership in the support that they can offer the community through the charity Carelink Gibraltar.”

“I hope that the sensitivity of the non-judgmental and non-directional service to be provided will give women who come into contact with it with all relevant information and options available to them allowing them to make the right choice for themselves as to whether or not to request a termination and the support they need regardless of what decision they make.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the professionals at the GHA who have been involved in ensuring that the services have been set up to be delivered safely and in such a timely manner.”

For its part, the GPLM welcomed working together with the Health Minister.

In a statement, GPLM spokesman, James Brenig, said: “We are very pleased that the Government of Gibraltar has pledged to strive to keep abortion rates to a minimum, and that the Health Minister has invited us to work in collaboration with them, to ensure that no one needs to resort to abortion due to lack of support.”

“We have given Ms Sacramento a few points to consider in terms of procedural aspects regarding the implementation of the law, and are currently working on proposals on how our Carelink charity can assist the GHA in providing a holistic range of services."

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