RIGHTS AND MAD WOMEN: Opinion by Felix Alvarez, ERG Chair
If the Government’s Command Paper on reproductive rights is anything to go by, we’re back to the era of hysterical women.
Why? Because, perhaps for the first time in Gibraltar history, women will be required to show, among some other extreme things, that they are not well mentally in order to access abortion.
And a Government whose Equality agenda, after cautious (and even, at times seemingly resentful resistance as happened with the initial big “No’ to same-sex marriage) brought us certain progress in some areas, has seen fit to suggest this kind of decline officially, and in writing.
Of course, it’s a recurring pattern in the life of many governments: a raw expediency to survive when sensing the fading of stardust; the desire to hang on even if it goes against an initial promise of progress. Out of all the sectors that have been vociferous in the Reproductive Rights campaign, though, the only one that has managed to escape whilst still looking pretty, is the Pro-Life movement, which deserves to be genuinely congratulated for a consistent and disciplined campaign in support of their view on this most delicate of issues. And they have every right to stand up for what they believe in, too. From where I stand, I can only applaud them.
Speaking only as Chair of Equality Rights Group (and not pre-empting the pending jointly agreed review of the Command Paper of the ERG/Unite Pro-Choice Campaign) Government’s proposals are red herrings all round, delivered with silk gloves. Government builds its rationale on a failed and flawed Northern Irish case in the Supreme Court in London that, in an unprecedented move that made international headlines, led four Justices of that same Court to comment outside of the specific confines of that case, effectively encouraging a better-chosen challenge to be presented to them in order to bring the rights of women in line with modern expectations.
Back in Gibraltar, the Command Paper comes with a vengeance for women; because, possibly for the first time in our modern legal history, it presents a Bill which explicitly enshrines in law (far beyond the Victorian era legislation which is still on our statute books in the form of the Crimes Act 2011) the official removal of any kind of agency at all on the part of women in Gibraltar when it comes to deciding over their bodies. It’s no mere coincidence, of course, that no male gender-based law exists with a similar level of imposition into a fundamental right over one’s body.
We’re back to telling women: ‘you will do as you’re told’. And this has to end.
Henceforth, if the proposed Bill makes it intact to the statute books, women must be confirmed by men in white coats (yes, still predominantly men), as being mentally ill or in extreme situations for their pregnancy to be terminated. The decision, according to the Command Paper, will never, ever be theirs to make. It will be stamped upon them by others. All this, despite the fact that proposals (bar none that I’m aware of) put forward across the multiple pro-choice groups that have come forth, limited themselves to a very early, and very narrow window of opportunity for termination (the earliest weeks) and strictly within what medical science endorses, and after counselling.
This extreme winding back by politicians of women’s agency to decide, and of our womenfolk’s right to choose for themselves within reason and guided by medical science, is unexpected in its back-pedaling brutality, and shocking beyond measure for what it says of a care-less intention to encrust a backward piece of new legislation into our society amidst attitudes that will survive well beyond the lifetime of the present Government; a telling point that cannot have escaped the Administration’s analysis.
If the Bill remains as is, this is no New Dawn. It’s an Old , very Old, Midnight. And, most disappointingly, from a Government that brought us a Ministry for Equality for the first time ever.
Election wins come and go, but legislation survives way beyond. While politicians play the convenient flute of ‘Self Determination’ when it suits them, the terms of this Command Paper aim to kick women’s right to self-determination (a centuries-long consistent theme of the women’s movement) in the teeth, and a long way into remoteness.
I continue to hold to the importance of respecting the Pro-Life Movement and its supporters, not only for mere aesthetic purposes, but for their absolute right to democratically hold and fight for their point of view. Their skills in analyzing and calibrating the political calculus, both in front and behind the scenes, has evidenced the gathering organisation of this sector of our community in the face of unimpeded success by progressive elements of our society. They have waited and learnt. And it is also a lesson the Pro-Choice sector needs to learn – and learn very quickly indeed. There is still time.
All Pro-Choice supporters and organisations with a progressive future for Gibraltar in their dreams must unite, as was originally the intention of the Pro-Choice Campaign when it launched that full-page ad in the Chronicle on 31 May last; an intention to go far beyond political partisanship, allegiance, or Party-based self-promotion. To advance, we must set Party loyalties and agendas aside and work together in one focused direction.
Laughing in the face of a right that women have been fighting to obtain for far too long (to decide for themselves) comes at a price.
It is up to us to name it.