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11th July 2019, 20:24

Government aims to put abortion bill to referendum in March next year

The bill to liberalise Gibraltar's abortion laws is to be put to Parliament on Friday, but will only be enacted if it's confirmed by a referendum, to be held early next year.

This has been announced by the Government this evening.

In a statement, Number Six says the process of consultation on abortion was promoted solely by the case of the UK's Supreme Court on the legality of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

It says this was found to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in that it prohibited abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, and pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

This week, cross-party UK MPs voted overwhelmingly to liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws, as well as allow same-sex marriage there. This was done on the grounds that the devolved Northern Irish government has been suspended in political deadlock since 2017.

The law will be enacted if a new Northern Irish executive is not formed by the 21st of October. Number Six has noted this, describing it as the imposition of direct rule.

The Government claims Article 8 of the European Convention is almost identical to Section 7 of the 2006 Gibraltar Constitution. It says it's advised that the current law is no longer compatible with the Constitution, and that urgent legislative action is needed.

The Government says it will debate the bill in Parliament tomorrow - but has announced that this will only come into effect dependent on the result of a referendum to be held on the 19th of March next year.

The Government claims this decision was taken after the Inter-Ministerial Committee found that national authorities have a limited discretion when fulfilling their obligations under the European Human Rights Convention.

Number Six says it believes this discretion is not enough for Gibraltar to prevent abortions for fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest. However, it says the Inter-Ministerial Committee cannot be certain of the legal position.

The Government says it's consulted as meaningfully and widely as possible following the Command Paper to amend the Crimes Act.

The referendum would almost certainly be after the next general election, which will be called this year. However, the GSLPLiberals commit themselves to honouring the result if re-elected.