No More Shame Gibraltar (NMS) notes and welcomes the publication of the Abortion Bill with combined interest and dismay. It goes without saying that the Government should be applauded for its decision to change the law on an issue such as abortion in a small community like Gibraltar.
Whilst welcoming reform in this area, NMS feels this does not go far enough to meet the needs of the women of Gibraltar. The availability of abortion services up to 12 weeks locally is appreciated and has been well received, but the Bill lacks clarity and direction regarding the services available to women with high risk pregnancies over the 12 week threshold. Such ambiguity, as it presently stands, presents a challenge of how medical practitioners might interpret it in the face of a pregnant person needing potentially life-saving treatment at 13 weeks, by way of example. Is it the Government’s intention to refer such a patient abroad for a termination?
NMS refutes the suggestion there is no available expertise in Gibraltar to look after these women post-12 weeks. The GHA has highly skilled and committed healthcare professionals who do not appear to have been consulted regarding the drafting of this legislation, or the provision of these services. Continuing to send these vulnerable women, many with wanted pregnancies, to the UK at a time when they most need their families’ support, is not in keeping with either the letter or spirit of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (reflected in Section 7 of the Constitution Order 2006), which calls for the right to “privacy and family life”. Yet it is on the basis of this right that HM Government has claimed the legislation in Gibraltar needed reforming.
An NMS advocate, who experienced such an abortion and wishes to remain anonymous, said:
“To have to endure the pain and suffering of the late termination of a wanted pregnancy away from home and go through the referral process, repatriation process of the aborted foetus and the grieving, was a gross violation of my family’s right to privacy and contributed to the shame and stigma of my termination.”
It is imperative that any ‘Regulations’ the Minister of Health subsequently provides regarding the issue of what happens with pregnancies post-12 weeks, be enshrined clearly in law, in this Bill, so there is no doubt in any health professionals’ or pregnant person’s mind that they are acting within the law, with all the legal protection and rights this affords. In fact, the Explanatory Memorandum of the draft Bill is ambiguous as it does not reflect accurately the content of the new law regarding post-12 week pregnancies.
Not many of the suggestions from submissions, which HM Government requested after publication of the Command Paper, appear to have been incorporated in the final Bill, such as decriminalisation and the need for only one health professional to prescribe a termination. The consultation process, which so many citizens of Gibraltar and international health and legal experts contributed to, seems to have been in vain. NMS feels that having grasped the nettle of abortion reform, an important opportunity has been lost by HM Government to be creative and imaginative to design much needed reform to the already outdated UK 1967 Bill, where this draft Bill is taken from. To not welcome and incorporate the opinion of experts, instrumental in writing the legislation of Ireland and the Isle of Man, falls short of providing the women of Gibraltar with modern fit for purpose abortion legislation and services.
NMS will write to HM Government with recommendations for the draft Bill and seek a consultation meeting with the Minister for Health on the importance of a participatory process in developing clinical guidelines in line with human rights; such as the provision for home use for medical abortion in early pregnancy as per draft NICE guidelines; for GPs, Nurse practitioners and midwives to be able to prescribe early medical abortions at primary care and not just in hospital; and a seamless and fast pathway for post-12 week pregnancies being referred to the UK.
See also: http://www.womensgrid.org.uk/?p=8831