Referendum on abortion act

Dear Sir,

No More Shame is pleased that Parliament will soon be debating the terms of the referendum on introducing the Abortion Act which was passed in July of this year. Whilst in principle we strongly feel that such a fundamental healthcare and human rights issue should not be put to a referendum, we will proudly be at the forefront of the campaign to bring this Act to effect on 19th March 2020. 

We especially welcome the prompt resolution of issues such as how the question will be worded, who will be eligible to vote and especially guidance on advertising, fact checking and the language used in campaigning.

We are particularly concerned at the way the non-medical, non-legal term ‘abortion on demand’ is being used, unchallenged, in relation to the existing Act. This is clearly a factual inaccuracy which needs to be corrected from the outset. The Act legalises abortion , for a limited set of circumstances, authorised by 2 health professionals, within a timeframe of 12 weeks. The fact that a woman initiates this process does not make it ‘on demand’. If we seek advice with a condition from a healthcare professional, that we feel needs an X-ray, and your GP believes an X-ray is clinically indicated, and a consultant radiologist also agrees, this does not mean that we have had an x-ray ‘on demand’. It means that, as a patient, you have initiated a process, and that two health professionals have assessed and concurred that the clinical and legal requirements for that procedure to be carried lawfully and safely, have been satisfied. No amount of repetition of the phrase ‘abortion on demand’ changes the fact that this Act is precisely not ‘abortion on demand’. This is especially concerning when it is repeated by members of the legal profession and politicians. We hope that clear guidance on advertising and campaigning will enable the referendum to be based on the facts of the Act and not personal interpretations of what the Act provides, and that the distinction between both is clearly made.

No More Shame would also like to take this opportunity to highlight one of the particular grounds that women can access a termination, as we feel that this is being grossly misinterpreted at present, and needs addressing in the early stages of this campaign. We refer to the ability to access a termination on the grounds that continuing with the pregnancy will affect the mental health of a woman.

Beyond the first few years of life where a baby has an intense physical dependency on an adult, the act of parenting is also a mentally, psychologically and intensely emotional one. The worries, stresses and joys of parenting are related in small measure to the fact that we gave biological birth to a baby. In these times when we claim to be acutely aware of the importance of our mental health needs, to denigrate the reasons why women may feel they are accessing abortion on mental health grounds shows a gross ignorance of the demands of parenthood and reduces womens’ function to breeding rather parenting.

It is not surprising that women seek to access terminations on the grounds that continuing their pregnancy would be detrimental to their mental health, in the numbers that they do. Women who are raped, victims of incest, victims of abuse, women battling with diagnosed mental health conditions, with terminal illnesses, with addictions, with complex life circumstances, these women may be physically able to give birth, but does that mean they are able to be a parent? Or should be forced to be one when it is not a choice they made? Or when the choice they made turns out to be one which will alter their lives beyond what they feel able to cope with physically or mentally? Choosing to terminate a pregnancy on mental health grounds is not a frivolity, as inferred by recent public statements from those who oppose reforming Gibraltar’s draconian, antiquated laws. Having mental health provisions in any legislation is a recognition that as humans, we parent and not just breed, that we live in communities and not breeding colonies, that we care for all our children financially, emotionally and psychologically way beyond the years that they are physically dependent on us. Choosing to be a parent or not, has lifelong consequences that, as thinking, feeling human beings, we have to factor into our decision making. Truly caring communities recognise the need to support women through these complex choices and recognise that THEY know what is best for them and their families. Truly caring communities do not question the integrity and judgement of medical professionals, implying they are not morally or ethically able to make decisions on this ONE aspect of care, whilst implicitly trusting them on every other aspect, simply because it goes against their moral or ethical beliefs. Truly caring communities balance the rights of all individuals, and respects diversity of opinion and does not seek to impose a minority belief on a majority of the population, regardless of the consequences. We must all work together to build a Gibraltar where families are supported and where there is access to proper contraception and better sexual health education. However, the bottom line is that continuing to ban abortion care does NOT stop abortions, it never has, and it never will. It just shifts the problem to another community. And this community should not bury its head in the sand, but confront the issue head on, and allow access to free, safe and legal abortion care, when this is the only or best option left for a woman to take.

No More Shame