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Not your pregnancy – not your decision!

 

Opinion: Felix Alvarez
Chair, Equality Rights Group

Women’s health and safety matter. And leaving them to random chance through fear, shame, or criminal stigma or sanction will not do any more.

The Pro-Choice Campaign, which ERG initiated last 29 May (and which welcomes and finds encouragement in the multiple Civil Society voices that have arisen), continues to grow and is now co-led with the full endorsement of Unite the Union both in Gibraltar and the UK, advocating as it does the decriminalisation of women’s reproductive choices within reasonable legal and medical margins. As a platform, it has already attracted the endorsement of other notable support from outside our frontiers – with the UK Labour Party, the National Union of Students, and Humanists UK already in support of our work. And here in Gibraltar, important social players are poised to join the Campaign as we enter into dialogue and discussions, with considerable empathy already evident. The nub of what we’re saying, after all, makes sense to many: no imposition, just choice under medical supervision. Period. Noone is disallowed from taking a pregnancy to full term. But many women want the choice, depending on medical and other grounds. Yet no woman takes pregnancy casually. That suggestion is close to wicked.

Alvarez – Photo by Reuben Avellano

The Campaign however, has been adamant from the outset on one important point: that it should divorce itself entirely from partisan or personality interests. It wishes to have no satisfaction other than to advance the rights of women, whether they be of one persuasion or another. It is a platform open to civil society players who seek no political advantage, who do not aim to politicise what is a very intimate and personal issue for our women. Having spoken to many women across our community on the question of pregnancy, whether about carrying to full term, or through the unwanted termination of a miscarriage (a deep and difficult pain of loss I also have known too personally and too well), or medical termination out of necessity or choice in the early stages, it is clear to me that no decision concerning pregnancy is ever taken without thought by any woman. It is felt, it is meditated, it is considered – and, most often, in consultation with the father.

And yes, fathers do have a role to play in this. Where there is emotional engagement it is only fair to include them. That is why the Pro-Choice Campaign’s proposals for a better legal approach to this question suggest that while ultimately (and for a number of very valid reasons), carrying to full term or termination is rightly a woman’s decision, fathers ought to be part of the process at the crucial early, non-directive counselling stage; a stage that should take place to determine whether parenting, adoption or termination is the best choice for any individual woman.

Whether on this issue or any other we have ever led, the fundamental right of people of religious faith has always been, and will always be (as long as I remain Chair of ERG) held as high in value as any other right protected by international law. And for good reason: too much persecution and hate sully our human history, even among and between the religions themselves. And human rights law arose precisely to safeguard against a repetition of catastrophic and horrific errors. Yet they persist where human and civil rights principles are not consistently and objectively argued for, and understood.

The Chief Minister has responded positively to the evident social temperature raised by all who have participated on this question; and despite inaccurate journalistic reports to the contrary in some quarters. The door has opened where before it creaked with age. This is already a step forward. And this is the kind of work that Civil Society can and does do in a democratic society: moving issues, moving margins, indeed moving where immobility seemed  all too inevitable.

So, let’s leave partisan or personality politics out of it. Let’s not side or go against a vital conversation which aims only to better the lot of all women, leaving each the room to breathe they need to make the decision that will deliver not in-the-shadows, furtive criminal status and guilt, but guidance and treatment in our own land.

The Pro-Choice Campaign aims to do just that. And this is what we propose:

Counselling: the Gibraltar Health system, as part of its recently-established Sexual Health services, must provide non-directive counselling so women have the full facts about their options (including parenting, adoption, or termination). Women must be supported during their decision-making and afterwards. While the ultimate responsibility rests with women, the majority welcome the engagement of partners in this process.

Terminations up to 12 weeks: following counselling, to be available if requested by a woman who is distressed at being pregnant. Most women will seek termination in the earliest stages of pregnancy.

Terminations between 12 and 24 weeks: to be available following assessment if there are serious maternal (physical or mental) or foetal health concerns, serious social grounds, or other grounds which include but are not limited to 1) addiction 2) death of partner during pregnancy 3) imprisonment (woman or partner) 4) homelessness/risk of homelessness and 5) pregnancy resulting from sexual crime.

Terminations over 24 weeks: to be available where the woman’s life is in danger; or where there are other risk factors that could impact on both mother and foetus and full medical consultation has taken place prior to decision-making.