Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you very much for allowing me to be here with you at this splendid event, the inaugural conference of the Gibraltar Pro Life Movement.
I’m delighted to be able to take part in this celebration of all that you are and do, of the commitment and the determination of you all to the value of human life. Congratulations to everyone who has worked in the pro life cause in Gibraltar, and who has brought your organisation to this stage. Your event today is a preparation for the next stage of the journey.
We meet at a perilous time for the unborn child in Gibraltar. Change to abortion law is being sought. These are times which are perilous for unborn children across the world. And not just for them, but also for the terminally ill, for the disabled: for all the vulnerable people of our world born, and not yet been born. Yet it is a time filled with hope because you are active and prepared to work here in Gibraltar to make a difference to how your country approaches the most sensitive issues it faces at this very critical time.
When we talk about human life, we are on sacred ground. The language is very special. I do not need to tell you just how special are those moments when a child grows in its mother’s womb, when the first stirring of life are felt, the first little kicks, the bigger kicks and then the somersaults until the baby grows big and strong enough to emerge into the world. There can be absolutely no doubt that there is a little baby growing in the mother’s womb. In London pregnant women wear “Baby on Board” badges on public transport, so that their fellow travellers will look after them. When the child is wanted it is a baby. A precious little darling human being. So much loved.
But that is not always the case. I do not need to rehearse the many reasons why women who find themselves carrying children do not want them, or perhaps they do want them, but feel that for economic or other reasons they cannot keep them and must terminate their little lives before they are born. It has ever been an issue that has troubled society. Once, Christianity formed the conscience and hearts of the people and abortion was quite simply universally unlawful. There was recognition that human life is sacred, or if you prefer it thus, that human life from the conception to its natural end was to be protected. And yes abortions have always happened. But that does not make them right.
Now across the world things have changed, and with increasing secularism there is increasing disregard for religious belief, and an increasing view sexuality is but another element of personhood to be enjoyed as a person wishes, almost without regard for the consequences. When the consequences become real in the form of an unborn unwanted child the answer is very often abortion – the unborn child has no or little legal protection. And so many times then baby is not referred to as unborn child but rather a collection of cells, a foetus etc.
There are arguments too at the other end of life, with calls for assisted suicide, or for euthanasia – always the language of those who seek to change the law is couched in terms of compassion and kindness, of respect for dignity, sparing suffering, language which should lead to the protection of life not its termination. People do not become doctors and nurses so that they can kill people, and yet that is what those societies which permit abortion and assisted suicide require of at least some of their doctors and nurses. Have the rights of freedom of religion, and of freedom of expression and thought become second tier rights?
Here in Gibraltar, as around the world, you know the reasons why we need to fight to protect life.
Many of us, like you, are engaged in the struggle to protect all life, even unborn life, unwanted life. Why bother? In an increasingly secular world, can you continue to fight? Yes you can! Will you continue? I am sure that many of you will, and perhaps maybe just one or two of you who have chosen not to speak out in public – will find the courage and the opportunity now to speak out! Can you make a difference? Yes you can! You may be criticised, vilified, for your inhumanity, your naivete, your fundamentalism! Yes all these accusations may be made because the pro choice lobby uses the language of human rights to assert their case. It is important always to use the language of compassion and care too, and to show real compassion.
The abortion proposals currently being brought forward in Gibraltar are partly as a result of pressure exerted due to a series of court challenges to the ban on abortion which existed in Northern Ireland. But even in those court cases in Belfast and in London, it was clearly stated that “there is no right to an abortion” under the European Convention on Human Rights.
And yet, abortion campaigners continue to insist that the European Convention, as well as other UN treaties put in place in the middle part of the last century, somehow confer a right to an abortion – “bodily autonomy” or “reproductive rights” as it is euphemistically referred.
How has it come to pass that international agreements designed after the Second World War to protect people from genocide, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment are now used in an attempt to force governments to permit the slaughter of unborn children across the world?
I want to correct a few errors which appear in the consultation document issued by the Government of Gibraltar. There is no compulsion on the Government of Gibraltar to act on this matter. The case on which this consultation is based is a 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court in England and Wales. The Supreme Court in 2018 held and I quote “that the NIHRC does not have standing to bring these proceedings and accordingly that this court has no jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility.”
A judge in the High Court in NI in Oct 2019 also decided not to make a declaration of incompatibility since legislation was pending.
So there is no declaration of incompatibility.
There were no human rights judgments that required action by the Government in July 2019 and, even if there were, there would have been no obligation on the UK to act. We do not always act in accordance with the Supreme Court. There was no obligation to act. There is still no obligation to act.
Accordingly Gibraltar is under no legal duty to act.
It is not the case, as I believe your Chief Minister has said that the UK Government would force Gibraltar to act. They would not. They cannot.
Parliament had no intention of legislating on this issue in 2019. What happened was that a bill came before Parliament with a single purpose – to extend the time before an election had to be held to January 2020. That was all it was.
That bill was hijacked by Labour Party members of the House of Commons with the help of the Speaker who amended the Bill to include an unworkable provision requiring abortion in NI.
Responsibility for abortion policy lies with the Northern Ireland Assembly. It voted in 2016 by a clear majority not to change our abortion law in any way. The Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for 2 and a half years. Without any consultation or warning, in a fast track law, Parliament voted to change the law. 332 MPs from England, Scotland and Wales, despite the fact that every Member of Parliament representing a Northern Irish constituency, who sits in Westminster, voted against any change in the law, as did and every Northern Ireland member of the House of Lords.
There was therefore a total democratic deficit. We had thought those days were done.
What they legislated for was compliance with the recommendations of an unelected complaints committee of the Convention CEDAW. There was no obligation whatsoever to do this. .
So we in NI are now left with a consultation as to how to implement the law – we currently have a vacuum in which abortion is not a criminal offence even when carried out up to 28 weeks of gestation. There is no legislation regulating abortion at all up to 28 weeks – it can happen anywhere, can be carried out by anyone and there is no protection as there was previously for women and girls whose partners or parents or others force them to have an abortion or administer tablets to them to procure an abortion. We know this happens. People have been convicted in E and W.
Now we are in the process of consultation about what our law should like since we are required by Parliament to have a law which complies with the vague, non-specific recommendations of the CEDAW committee, by which we were not originally bound.
You, the people of Gibraltar have the power to stop the proposed legislation by voting against it in the Referendum. I urge you to do so.
The most recent figures from the World Health Organisation show that on average 56 million children are aborted each year across the world. That’s one in four children. In England and Wales alone there were 205,295 abortions in 2018 – which was an all time high. One in four children!
In the UK, we know that the law has been routinely flouted. That doctors presign forms so that they may never even see the women presenting for abortion, that babies are aborted because they are little girls, because they have manageable conditions such as Downs Syndrome, even because they have club feet and cleft palates, things which are easily fixed. We know too that some babies who are aborted but live through the process are routinely left to die, some 30 a year in the UK.
This is the appalling vista which awaits Gibraltar under the proposed abortion regime, which is being described as “restrictive” by its proponents.
No doubt the proposals will excite emotions, debate and divisions within society in Gibraltar. And therein lies your opportunity. You too can lobby your parliamentarians, asking all the important questions, about how these new proposals are justifiable.
If the print and broadcast media will not grant you the space to really make your case, to explain why there is right to life, claim the
free space of social media. That is where real communication often takes place nowadays. It’s wonderful to see young people here. You know how to use social media. You know the power of it. Show us how to do it really well. And we have seen particularly in the United States, how social media has become a powerful tool in the pro-life arsenal.
There are organisations like Right to Life UK which produces lot of material and which an help you in the work you must do. They send their good wishes to you today.
Among you and among your supporters too there must be lawyers who can find the language of the law to deal with any proposed legislation, you will have people who know about strategy and planning. We must also mobilise families, children, parents and grandparents – and gather them to the pro-life cause.
Can you find the words to respond to the emotive language that speaks of forcing women to carry children with fatal foetal abnormalities or children who will have life limiting conditions? Can you shine a light on the value of each human life. Here in Gibraltar, I am sure that there are women and children whose stories mirror those of so many people in England and Ireland. Such as Tracy Harkin, mother of 13 year old Kathleen Rose? She describes the great love and happiness that Kathleen Rose has brought into the family’s life. Yet Kathleen Rose has Trisonomy 13, a condition which is described as a fatal foetal abnormality.
Mr Justice Horner said in the Northern Ireland courts a number of years ago that: “In the case of an FFA there is no life to protect.
When the foetus leaves the womb, it cannot survive independently. It is doomed. There is nothing to weigh in the balance. There is no human life to protect.”
Yet research demonstrates that 72% of children with anencephaly live beyond birth, with 25% living for up to 5 days. For other ‘fatal’ conditions to which Mr Justice Horner was referring, such as Trisomy 13 and 18, the average life of children affected is between 10 and 14 days, whilst others, like Kathleen Rose live much longer.
Yes there is hardship in sickness and disability and death, but we all know that is not a reason to kill an unborn baby or to euthanise the sick, the disabled, the depressed, as happens in some countries.
How can it be said that an individual’s right to life ultimately rests on his or her capability to enjoy themselves as we understand it. What then of those in a coma, those suffering from depression. What of people like my friend Jane Campbell who has only the use of one finger, yet who is an active and very effective campaigner for the disabled, always beautifully dressed, always caring and kind to others?
Rather we need to offer proper support to those who carry children they feel unable to look after, so that those children may live, support to those who live with a disability, or illness or a life limiting condition, and we need to improve palliative care services. We need to ensure that those who care for babies and others with difficulties, receive adequate and proper support. We need to make life better – not take it away.
Societies make choices. You can help the people of Gibraltar to make the right choice and to do everything possible to ensure that the law continues to protect the unborn, the vulnerable and the weak, and that our medical services provide the best possible palliative care for those who suffer so that they may live out their lives in dignity and peace.
I want you now to think for a moment about someone who you probably have all heard of. – he was born to an unmarried mother who felt she could not keep him, He was adopted. He grew up to become a man of huge talent. He was the brains behind Apple, behind the iPhone and the iPad and lots of other technology I don’t understand. We can see so clearly what Steve Jobs brought to the world, what would have been lost had his mother not been brave enough to give birth to him.
Think about the most important things in life – love, compassion, generosity – we do not get them from material things. We get them from other human beings. There is a benign connectedness in our lives which can seem very strange. We may call it providence.
Nobody we meet is perfect, yet if we but take the time, we can find goodness and love in everyone and that is the essence of our humanity. Each life is worth fighting for. We must fight using all the skills, competences and abilities here in this room and those of all the people you can encourage to join you, we must fight with the language of love – not attacking, not denigrating, always positive, so that we can persuade the people of Gibraltar to recognize and reaffirm the value of each human being with all the imperfections, some obvious, some less obvious, which are part of our human condition.
Let Gibraltar continue to be a place in which life matters.
Each one of you, in some way, big or small, some way you may not even know now, can make a difference which may ensure that somebody as yet unborn, or somebody living with what we may view as insufferable limitations, can actually live out their lives to the full.
This a time of opportunity. Use it well.
Thank you for listening to me.