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Gibraltar abortion vote postponed due to coronavirus

Poll earlier this month shows 70% of voters intend to support changes to liberalize abortion laws in referendum

Karim El-Bar   | 13.03.2020
Gibraltar abortion vote postponed due to coronavirus


Gibraltar announced on Thursday that it postponed a referendum on liberalizing its abortion laws due to the global coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, the government said that though the "nature of the voting process is safe," it was concerned that "the advice to elderly people to stay home and avoid public places" could lead to the result of the vote to be "called into question" due to possible allegations that it skewed the results of the vote.

"This would potentially deprive the result of the Referendum of democratic legitimacy and, in that way, would defeat the object of the exercise of putting the issue to the people," it said.

Gibraltar's political parties, as well as both sides of the campaign, agreed to the decision and suspended campaigning. The parliament will set a new date for the referendum when no age group is at risk.

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo said: "Slowing the inevitable spread of the virus in Gibraltar requires us to act decisively and to adapt on a dynamic basis to the circumstances as they develop. I believe this is the right decision for the difficult weeks ahead."

The referendum on abortion was scheduled for March 19. Currently, the only exception to its total ban on abortion is when it would save the life of the mother. Otherwise, the penalty is life imprisonment though this sentence has not been applied for some time.

The proposed change would allow abortions in cases where the mother's physical or mental health are at risk, such as rape and incest, as well as allowing abortions if the fetuses have fatal physical defects.

A poll earlier this month by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation found that 70% of voters said they intended to vote in favour of the changes, with only 19% saying they would vote against.

Speaking to the AFP in January, Picardo said: "Abortion was not a live political issue in Gibraltar because, although our law prevents abortion, this law had fallen into disuse in the sense that people who wanted to have abortions simply had them in Spain."

"This was probably one of the most unintended consequences of Brexit: that people suddenly said, well hang on a minute, if people have been going for abortions in Spain what happens if the frontier is closed?"

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory at the southern tip of Spain, and has over 32,000 residents.

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 114 countries.

The global death toll is now over 4,600, with more than 124,500 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

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