Fact Check

 

  1. What are the official grounds needed for abortion in the proposed amendments to the Crimes Act?
  2. Is this abortion on demand up to 12 weeks?
  3. Is this abortion up until birth?
  4. Would abortions up to birth be much more restrictive?
  5. Would dilation and evacuation abortions be legal? CONTENT WARNING: DESCRIPTION OF ABORTION
  6. Would partial birth abortion be legal? CONTENT WARNING: DESCRIPTION OF PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION
  7. Would state-enforced abortions be legal?
  8.  What else has occurred in Great Britain since legalisation?
  9. Is this just scaremongering?
  10. Is this Act needed to save women’s lives?
  11. How developed is the foetus at 12 weeks?
  12. When can babies in the womb feel pain?
  13. When does human life begin?
  14. Is it a ‘baby’?
  15. Is abortion necessary to protect/safeguard/improve woman’s mental health?
  16. Does abortion harm women’s mental and physical health?
  17. Does our law actually save babies?
  18. Is there an international human right to abortion?
  19. Will the UK impose a more radical abortion law on Gibraltar?
  20. Would the law have an effect on the disabled community?
  21. Is medical abortion simpler and safer?
  22. Is there a non-religious argument for being pro-life?

 

1 What are the official grounds needed for abortion in the proposed amendments to the Crimes Act?

These clauses are quoted directly from the proposed amendments to the Crimes Act.

s.163A(1)

(a) ‘that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week (third month) and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;’ or

(b) ‘that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant women;’ or

(c) ‘that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated;’ or

(d) ‘that there is a substantial risk that the foetus is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality(a previous draft read ‘child’ in place of ‘foetus’)

s.163A(2)

‘In determining whether the continuance of a pregnancy would involve such risk of injury to health as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of this section, account may be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment.’

The proposed amendments to the Gibraltar Crimes Act are almost identical to the UK Abortion Act, which allows abortions for the following reasons (differences in bold):

  • ‘that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, or injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family
  • ‘that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’
  • ‘that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated’
  • ‘that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped

‘In determining whether the continuance of a pregnancy would involve such risk of injury to health… account may be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment.’

As can be seen, the only differences are the time-limit of 12 vs 24 weeks (or 3 vs 6 months), the addition of ‘existing children’s mental health’ in the UK law, and the different phrasing of the disability clause.

 

2 Is this abortion on demand up to 12 weeks?

Yes.

Every doctor in the UK knows that abortion is available for any reason in the UK – these are almost all performed under clause 1, specifically under the ‘mental health’ section of the clause. The majority of abortions therefore have nothing to do with the physical health of a mother. Department of Health statistics show that there were 200,608 abortions in England and Wales in 2018 (page 3). Of these, 97.7% (196,083) were performed under clause 1 (page 10 – called ground C there). And of these 196,083, 99.9% were performed specifically for mental health reasons (page 10, point 2.15) – despite the false claims by Prof Louise Kenny from ‘Gibraltar for Yes’ that this information is not available (GBC TV interview 14th February 2020). That is, 97.6% of abortions are performed for ‘mental health’ reasons in the UK.

Is abortion technically available on demand? No. That is not the claim. The claim is that the mental health clause is so flexible that it in practice allows abortion on demand. Here is how it works: someone seeking an abortion for any reason (for example, because the baby is a girl, and they wanted a boy and would like to try again) goes to an abortion clinic and says that they do not want to keep the baby, perhaps because the baby is a girl. Because this is illegal when framed this way, the healthcare professional (occasionally a doctor, but it is common not to see a doctor at all) then asks: ‘do you think this would affect your mental health?’ If the patient says yes, the abortion is permitted, and the box ‘ground C – F99 – mental disorder – not otherwise specified’ is ticked by two doctors who are eventually given the notes of the consultation.

There is an abundance of evidence that this works out as abortion on demand:

  • Sex-selective abortion is allowed. Pro-choice legal scholar at the University of Oxford Kate Greasley has demonstrated in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies that sex-selective abortion is legal in UK law. And the pro-choice newspaper The Independent has reported multiple times on the frequency of sex-selective abortion in the UK, which has reduced the female population by up to 4,700 compared to males. New genetic testing has allowed early detection of the baby’s gender, which is leading to sex-selective abortions at an early stage in the UK – and hence would in Gibraltar too. In 2015, the UK parliament voted against banning sex-selective abortion. In the same year, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute two doctors caught offering sex-selective abortions. If ‘mental health’ can be – and undeniably is – used in Great Britain as a cover for sex-selective abortion, how can it be limited in any way at all? How is this not abortion on demand under a different name?
  • The numbers: the statistics do not suggest a limited abortion law. There are over 200,000 abortions a year in England and Wales alone, and as seen above, almost all of these are for ‘mental health reasons’.
  • Mental disorder – not otherwise specified: the code used (page 10, point 2.15) for these abortions is F99: mental disorder – not otherwise specified. This is basically a catch-all term that is not an identifiable mental disorder. In other words, there is not an identifiable mental health risk – hence the use of this vague and meaningless term to explain the ‘mental health risk’ justifying the abortion.
  • Doctors not seen: Women obtaining abortions in the UK frequently never see a doctor. Government guidance makes clear: ‘there is no statutory requirement for either doctor to have seen and/or examined the woman’. How can we believe that abortions occur for serious medical reasons when doctors don’t even need to see or examine the patient? A much more extensive newspaper investigation found a huge amount of evidence of abortion on demand including abortions being signed off after 22 second phone calls, women being signed off as ‘unable to cope emotionally’ after saying nothing other than ‘I just don’t want the baby’, and much more.
  • Pre-signing of abortions forms: In Great Britain, the hospital regulators (CQC) uncovered a practice of doctors signing forms before they even knew about the woman in question. While the government was quick to put out guidance reinforcing that this was completely illegal, the fact that doctors felt comfortable enough doing it in the first place shows without doubt that they do not seriously consider whether women meet the legal or clinical criteria – they accept any reason as valid.
  • Repeat abortions: In 2018, 39% of women undergoing abortions had already had one or more abortions (page 13). Over 6,000 women had already had three abortions or more (table 4b). 61 women had already had eight abortions or more. It is clear that it is being used as an alternative for contraception.
  • Pro-abortion advocates admit this is abortion on demand: Here is a selection of quotes from abortion advocates admitting that what the UK has is effectively abortion on demand, in practice:

‘Despite being one of the most restrictive laws in the developed world on paper, it is one of the most liberal in the way it can be interpreted. Although the Act does not formally permit allow abortion on request, that is close to what it allows in practice.’ Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s main private abortion provider.

‘The idea of predicting mental health outcome with confidence, against a woman’s own testimony, is inconceivable for most practitioners. Applying the law as it stands, we can at best inform a woman of what the law requires, inquire sensitively whether she believes it to be fulfilled in her case, explore doubt conscientiously, inform her of risk, and trust her response.’ (Italics added) Sandy Goldbeck-Wood et al., editor of BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health.

‘The proposed new section 163A.(1)(a) will provide for abortion to be lawfully provided where two ‘registered medical practitioners’ certify that a pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks and the continuance would involve a greater risk to physical or mental health than if the pregnancy were terminated of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. It mimics the letter of the law of other jurisdictions including the UK. But we all know that this is a loophole through which abortion happens on-demand within the established time parameters’ Marlene Hassan-Nahon MP, Together Gibraltar (Line 3345).

We could go on. But suffice it to say this is clearly abortion on demand. Great Britain has abortion on demand, and there is nothing different about our law that would stop abortion on demand in Gibraltar. Those calling this a ‘restrictive law’ simply do not understand the interpretation of the wording of the proposed law or they are not telling the truth.

 

3 Is this abortion up until birth?

Yes.

While in the first subsection s.163A(1)(a) abortion is limited to the first 12 weeks, subsections 163A(1)(b),(c) and (d)have no time limit specified at all. While some people have claimed that s.161 prohibits abortion after 28 weeks (about 7 months), this is superseded by s.163A(1) which reads, “…a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion and child destruction in sections 161 to 163 hereof when …” and then continues to set out the four events mentioned above s.163A(1)(a) to (d) where as above at (b)-(d) no time limit applies.

Section 161 of the Crimes Act 2011, which prohibits abortion after 28 weeks, is virtually identical to the Infant Life Preservation Act in Great Britain.

Hence, Great Britain using the same framework gives a decisive answer as to whether the proposed amendments would permit abortion after 28 weeks. Great Britain shows that they do. The Department of Health statistics (page 32) show decisively that over 100 legal abortions occurred over 28 weeks in England and Wales. Abortion up to birth would be permissible in Gibraltar under 3 separate clauses. The next question addresses the conditions under which abortion up to birth would be permitted.

 

4 Would abortions up to birth be much more restrictive?

No.

There is no guarantee of this whatsoever. It is commonly claimed by pro-abortion advocates that abortions at stages later than 12 weeks – and especially in the third trimester – could only be performed to save the woman’s life or where the child suffers from a fatal condition.

Superficially, that seems to be true, since in the proposed amendments it is legal up to birth only under the latter 3 clauses:

  • ‘that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant women’
  • ‘that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated’
  • ‘that there is a substantial risk that the child is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality

‘In determining whether the continuance of a pregnancy would involve such risk of injury to health… account may be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment.’

But closer examination shows that these restrictions are not very restrictive. How do we know?

  • UK law interprets clauses 2 and 3 very liberally: a Freedom of Information request (available on request) showed that these clauses were actually used in far less restrictive cases than would initially seem. For example, one abortion in 2017 took place under these clauses because the woman had high blood cholesterol. This is simply not a life-threatening condition that requires abortion to treat. Likewise, a number of abortions in 2017 took place under this clause for the same mental health grounds: ‘mental disorder – not otherwise specified’. Nearly a quarter of abortions under these clauses were ‘Unknown’ – there was no clearly documented medical reason at all. So it appears that these clauses also provide clear scope for abortion for any or no reason – what is to stop someone from declaring that their pregnancy is affecting their mental health, just as they do before 12/24 weeks, and getting an abortion on precisely the same grounds? There is nothing in this law to prevent this from occurring, and the data from England and Wales show very clearly that these clauses are abused with abortions being perfomed for non-life-threatening conditions.
  • The wording of clause 3 potentially allows for abortion at very late stages in the pregnancy. It does not require a serious risk to the life of the mother – it just requires a greater risk than pregnancy poses. Since the mortality rate for pregnancy is around 1 in 10,000 pregnancies, it does not take a very significant risk to fulfil this clause – just a risk higher than 1 in 10,000. Given that doctors in Great Britain have interpreted every clause in the Abortion Act 1967 in the most liberal ways possible, and given that many pro-abortion doctors think that the risk to a woman’s life is always greater during childbirth than from abortion, this opens the door to abortion for extremely minor reasons – perhaps even the same reasons as before 12 weeks, on demand – up to birth. There is nothing to stop a woman from saying that her mental health is at risk at 35 weeks, and therefore that the risk to her life is slightly higher than average, and hence obtaining an abortion at this stage. The fact that we know ‘mental disorder – not otherwise specified’ (the abortion-on-demand phrase) is used under these clauses confirms this.
  • ‘Fatal foetal abnormality’ is not defined: this is not a recognised, well-characterised medical term and so there is a danger that it could be used widely for many disabilities. Some disabilities may be fatal but only after many years of happy, healthy living. This clause could therefore potentially open the door to abortion for all sorts of disabilities.
  • ‘Substantial risk’ is not defined: the disability does not need to be proven, and so it is perfectly possible that healthy babies are aborted simply on the grounds that there is a ‘risk’ that they might have a fatal abnormality.

Under these clauses, abortion at any stage in pregnancy up to birth would be legal. As we have seen, these clauses are nowhere near as restrictive as they are made out to be.

 

5 Would dilation and evacuation abortions be legal? CONTENT WARNING: DESCRIPTION OF ABORTION

Yes.

Dilation and evacuation is a method of abortion performed in the second trimester. As explained above, second trimester abortion would be legal in many circumstances. D&E involves dismembering the living baby and then, if necessary, crushing its skull to help remove it from the womb. The baby is alive, sentient, and capable of feeling pain during this procedure.

 

6 Would partial birth abortion be legal? CONTENT WARNING: DESCRIPTION OF PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION

Yes.

Partial birth abortion was described by Martin Haskell, its inventor, in a 1992 paper. He describes D&E as follows:

‘Classic D&E is accomplished by dismembering the fetus inside the uterus with instruments and removing the pieces… However, most surgeons find dismemberment at twenty weeks and beyond to be difficult due to the toughness of fetal tissues at this stage of development.’

He then describes partial birth abortion as an alternative in late abortions. After delivering the whole baby except for the head:

‘the surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening. The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents.’ The abortion ends by delivering the head.

Partial birth abortion would be legal under the proposed law, for the reasons described before. Until the baby is fully delivered, she still counts as a foetus and so is able to be aborted until fully delivered. Confirmation of this is found in the fact that when UK parliamentarians tried to ban partial birth abortion in the 90s, no one denied that it was legal – they just claimed that it was necessary in rare cases. The Royal College of Obstetricians claimed that it would only be used in extreme cases, and that it is ‘never used as a primary or pro-active technique’. But they did not deny that it could be used – in fact, they said it is ‘only ever likely to be used in unforeseen circumstances’. This is not a legal constraint, however, and there is nothing in the Gibraltar law to stop it being used in less restrictive circumstances.

Indeed, it emerged in the 90s that abortion advocates had been lying all along about partial birth abortion. This was all admitted by Ron Fitzsimmons, the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. He admitted that he previously ‘lied through my teeth’ when he said it was rare and for extreme cases. It was not rare: it was quite common. It was not for extreme circumstances: it was usually performed on healthy babies in healthy mothers, at over 20 weeks. ‘The abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else… it is a form of killing… you’re ending a life’, he concluded.

There is nothing in the proposed amendments to prevent this happening in Gibraltar.

 

7 Would state-enforced abortions be legal?

Yes.

The pro-choice newspaper The Independent recently reported on a story of a woman with learning disabilities in the UK who was 22 weeks pregnant – with a viable baby – and who wanted to keep the baby. Her mother was a midwife who wanted to look after the baby, and their social worker said that they should keep the baby. However, doctors decided that she should be forced to have an abortion. When she refused, they took her to court, where a judge ordered her to have a forced late-term abortion – late-term abortions frequently being described as torture, especially when forced. Fortunately, this judgment was overturned by a higher court – but would not have been if the family were unable to appeal. Similar cases occur in the UK, but due to ‘safeguarding’ concerns relatively few of the details are made publicly known.

Again, this would be legal in Gibraltar. If abortion is legalised, it would be treated as part of the GHA healthcare system. Since doctors and judges are entitled to make decisions on behalf of their patients if they consider their patients too disabled (regardless of the patient’s choice), the Crimes Act would introduce the possibility of state-enforced abortions on disabled women in Gibraltar.

 

8 What else has occurred in Great Britain since legalisation?

  • Many babies have been born alive after failed abortions and then left to die with no assistance given by healthcare professionals.
  • Abortions for twins and cleft palate (page 36) under the disability clause which allows abortions up to and during birth.
  • Aborted babies incinerated and used as biofuel to heat hospitals.
  • Abortions for children without parents being informed, leading to potentially dangerous situations where parents do not know their children’s medical history.
  • Abortion clinics performing abortions on children without properly taking consent: ‘Consent was routinely accepted from children without proper assessment of their ability to understand the risks.’
  • Abortion clinics giving disabled women abortions without properly taking consent or ensuring she could understand the procedure.
  • A huge number of other safety, safeguarding, and other concerns at abortion clinics across the UK, including abortion providers signing off post-surgery safety checks before the surgery started, poor infection control, lack of staff trained to safeguard children, and lack of staff trained to recognise unwell patients.
  • So many safety concerns at abortion clinics, especially when consenting children and disabled women, that Marie Stopes were given a nationwide ban on performing abortions on children, disabled women, and suspended from all abortions under general anaesthetic.
  • Women being treated inappropriately by surgeons, becoming very distressed, with the incident not being reported or dealt with even when it was observed by the inspectors.
  • Abortion clinics considering abortions as a ‘performance indicator’ – women who decided not to have an abortion were phoned up to be offered a later appointment to get them to reconsider.
  • These abortion clinics are all government funded, both domestically and even overseas in countries where abortion is illegal.

 

While there are no plans to introduce private clinics in Gibraltar at this stage, normalising abortion as part of healthcare opens the door to doing so very easily in future. And in any case, regardless of whether Gibraltar has private clinics, the way clinics have acted with impunity shows just how radical abortion attitudes and laws in Great Britain have become as a result of legalisation, and how unregulated the practice is.

 

9 Is this just scaremongering?

No.

Everything in this fact checker has been documented very clearly. We are committed to giving you factual, neutral information. Introducing ‘limited’ or ‘restrictive’ abortion laws and then abusing these and pushing for much more extreme abortion laws is exactly what we have seen in the past.

When abortion was legalised in Great Britain in 1967, it was with the sentiment that abortion was still wrong and a bad state of affairs – legalising it was just the lesser of two evils. Abortion is now seen as entirely normal, and even a part of basic healthcare.

When it was warned that the clause which allowed abortion up to birth for disability could also include minor ailments like cleft palate, Lord Steel himself said that this idea was ‘totally discreditable’, and Harriet Harman MP said that the legal scholars making the claim should be reported to the Law Society or Bar Council. Frank Doran MP called it ‘pure scaremongering’. Baroness Warnock and Lord Steel claimed that this clause existed only for children who were ‘incapable of living any meaningful life’. In fact, we now have several abortions for cleft palate under this clause each year, and many hundreds (page 36) for Down Syndrome.

We were told by Lord Brightman that the abortion of viable babies was unthinkable – ‘a doctor does not need an Act of Parliament to teach him that elementary duty [to try and deliver the child alive]’. He and Warnock claimed there was no need to mandate doctors to take ‘reasonable steps to secure that the child is born alive’. In fact, now we have several hundred abortions for babies after 22 weeks every year (page 22), and hundreds more in the weeks leading up to 22 weeks.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals were initially given substantial conscience protections. We now have burdens on doctors to refer patients for abortions against their conscience and even when there is no clinical indication, we have considerable pressure on doctors to actually perform abortions, and we have imposed duties on healthcare professionals to be involved in facilitating abortions against their conscience as long as they are not actively participating in the operating room itself. Finally, we were told by Lord Steel that there would be about 14,000 abortions a year under the new law. We now have over 200,000 a year in the UK.

The ’restrictive law’ trick has been tried before, and it clearly succeeded in deceiving the general public at large. Let’s learn from the mistakes of Great Britain and not import them here.

 

10 Is this Act needed to save women’s lives?

No.

As much as pro-abortion advocates have tried to find examples of Gibraltarian women dying because of lack of access to abortion, these cases simply do not exist. The burden of proof is on those claiming that women’s lives are at risk to demonstrate this.

Abortion is already legal in Gibraltar if a woman’s life is at risk. This is in part due to the court judgment in R vs Bourne, which allowed abortion if a woman’s life is at risk, including if continuing the pregnancy would make a ‘physical or mental wreck’ of the pregnant woman. That is, there is already legal abortion if it is considered by doctors that pregnancy would make a woman a mental wreck. Serious mental health issues are already covered under Bourne. In addition, Gibraltar makes clear in legislation that life-saving abortions are legal. In section 161 of the Crimes Act 2011, which prohibits child destruction, it says:

‘A person is not to be found guilty of an offence against this section unless it is proved that the act which caused the death of the child was not done in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother.’

Where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother*, it is already legal in Gibraltar. This is why the pro-abortion side has not, and cannot, give a single example of a woman dying because of the law as it stands.

 

*Strictly, the GPLM does not consider these to be ‘abortions’, because abortion is an intentional killing of the child, whereas life-saving abortions only foresee the death of the child without intending it. We call these ‘abortions’ here simply because the official statistics do and for ease of reference, without committing ourselves to the claim that abortion is medically necessary – the intentional killing of the unborn child is never medically necessary.

 

11 How developed is the foetus at 12 weeks?

The brain

A recent pro-choice op-ed claimed that ‘actual science demonstrates that there is neither brain nor nervous system (amongst other organs) to speak of well beyond [12 weeks].’

Again, the science could not contradict this misinformation more clearly, as all doctors know. The NHS website, for example, states very clearly that at 7 weeks of pregnancy (which is only 5 weeks after conception):

‘The brain is growing rapidly and this results in the head growing faster than the rest of the body. The embryo has a large forehead, and the eyes and ears continue to develop.’

At just 9 weeks (7 weeks after conception), it states:

‘The eyes are bigger and more obvious, and have some colour (pigment) in them. There’s a mouth and a tongue with tiny taste buds.

The hands and feet are developing – ridges identify where the fingers and toes will be, although they have not separated out yet.

The major internal organs, such as the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys and gut, continue developing.’

At 10 weeks (8 weeks after conception), it reports that the baby makes movements big enough to be visible on ultrasound.

Finally, by 12 weeks (10 weeks after conception), it concludes:

‘Just 12 weeks after your last period, the foetus is fully formed. All the organs, muscles, limbs and bones are in place, and the sex organs are well developed.

From now on, the baby has to grow and mature.

It’s too early for you to be able to feel the baby’s movements yet, although they’ll be moving quite a bit.’

Another recent journal article has pointed out that:

‘At the end of the embryonic period the embryo is 8 weeks in age since fertilization… By this time, more than 90% of the 5000 named structures of the body have appeared.’

The heart

Despite pro-abortion advocates claiming that there is no heartbeat early on in pregnancy, this is against the scientific evidence. In a 2019 paper by cardiovascular researchers at the University of Oxford, the authors declare very clearly:

‘By the end of gestational week 3, passive oxygen diffusion becomes insufficient to support metabolism of the developing embryo, and thus the fetal heart becomes vital for oxygen and nutrient distribution. The initiation of the first heart beat via the primitive heart tube begins at gestational day 22, followed by active fetal blood circulation by the end of week 4.’

More recent research from the University of Oxford suggests that the first heartbeat may be even earlier. The university reports

‘a team funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at the University of Oxford has demonstrated earlier beating of the heart in mouse embryos which, if extrapolated to the human heart, suggests beating as early as 16 days after conception.’

The brain and movements

Despite the claims of some pro-choicers that the brain does not exist until much later than 12 weeks, the science is clear (we have already seen the NHS claim otherwise).

In fact, since the 1960s, we have known that brain activity is recordable via EEG from 45 days – just over 6 weeks after conception (this article is from a pro-life think tank, but is written by a professional neuroscientist with a PhD from Boston. And it is referenced to neutral sources within).

A recent journal article gives a helpful (though technical) summary of recent evidence on brain development:

‘At 5 weeks, fetal (actually embryonic) movements can be detected. The cortical plate and subplate have been identified as early as 7 weeks. At a significant time of 5 weeks, all five major subdivisions of the brain are visible: telencephalon, diencephalon, mesencephalon, metencephalon, and myelencephalon…’

The authors comment further on ‘the formation of the cortical plate, which gives rise to layers 2-6 of the cerebral cortex.’ The cortex is the most developed part of the human brain, and the neurons forming the cortical plate and subplate often survive all the way from this stage until adulthood. So there is no doubt that formation of the cortical plate and subplate is a key development. But, the authors write:

‘Although it has been claimed that the cortical plate and subplate arise only during the fetal period, they have been found by the present authors already at 7 weeks. Synapses have been recognized in the cerebral hemispheres before the appearance of the subplate.’

Synapses are how nerve cells send electrical signals to each other. It is clear, then, that the brain is active and functioning electrically at an extremely early stage.

In an article on foetal pain by the world’s leading foetal pain researcher, who is himself pro-choice, he explains a bit more about the evidence for early brain development:

‘Free nerve ending, the “alarm buttons” [for pain] begin to develop at about seven weeks’ gestation; projections from the spinal cord, the major “cable” to the brain, can reach the thalamus (the lower alarm) at seven weeks’ gestation. An intact spinothalamic projection might be viewed as the minimal necessary anatomical architecture to support pain processing, putting the lower limit for the experience of pain at seven weeks’ gestation.’

Derbyshire eventually concludes that fetal pain is not able to be experienced until later on, but he clearly shows the intricate, functioning connections between the brain and the rest of the body from an incredibly early stage. Many scholars do think the fetus feels pain from this stage.

 

12 When can babies in the womb feel pain?

From 12 weeks, or possibly earlier.

There has long been debate on this, which we will not go into at length here. Some scholars think foetuses feel pain as early as 7 weeks – others say much, much later. Of note here, however, is that – as Derbyshire (the foremost foetal pain expert, who is himself pro-choice) says, ‘Arguably, there never was a consensus… Regardless of whether there ever was a consensus, however, it is now clear that the consensus is no longer tenable’. Derbyshire used to think that foetal pain was not possible until much later than pregnancy. But in a remarkable new article, he says that new science has overturned his previous view. He says:

‘In summary, current neuroscientific evidence undermines the necessity of the cortex for pain experience. Even if the cortex is deemed necessary for pain experience, there is now good evidence that thalamic projections into the subplate, which emerge around 12 weeks’ gestation, are functional and equivalent to thalamocortical projections that emerge around 24 weeks’ gestation… Overall, the evidence, and a balanced reading of that evidence, points towards an immediate and unreflective pain experience mediated by the developing function of the nervous system from as early as 12 weeks.’

There remain, of course, other scholars who think that pain is possible even earlier. But this shows again how the pro-abortion side has consistently been proven wrong on the science. If this law goes through, then given that many abortions would be allowed after 12 weeks, it is highly likely that many babies would experience the pain of being dismembered while alive in their mother’s womb.

 

13 When does human life begin?

At fertilisation.

While some pro-abortion advocates claim that this is controversial, or a personal opinion, or a philosophical question, biologists actually do not argue about this at all. The simplest and most decisive piece of evidence is a recent survey from 2018, where a University of Chicago PhD researcher surveyed thousands of biologists across the world, 95% of whom affirmed the position that life begins at fertilisation. Even the large majority of pro-choice biologists agreed with this position. It is not controversial within biology when life begins – to deny that it begins at fertilisation is simply to deny science.

As another simple example, some researchers at Princeton have helpfully compiled two lists of medical textbooks which state clearly this fact. Likewise, another list of textbook and scientific journal quotes can be found here.

 

14 Is it a ‘baby’?

Yes.

Some pro-choicers claim that the unborn child is not a ‘baby’ but instead an ‘embryo’ or a ‘foetus’.

This is highly misleading. This is a confusion between an inaccurate term and a technical term. Informal, non-technical terms can still be accurate, and doctors use them all the time. In fact, doctors have been advised to avoid technical terms and use the informal terms instead. So, for example, ‘axilla’ is the technical name for an armpit, ‘myocardial infarction’ is the technical name for a heart attack, and so on. But calling them armpits and heart attacks is still perfectly accurate and doctors do so all the time.

Likewise, although the technical terms for a baby in the womb are, firstly, ‘embryo’, and later on, ‘foetus’, it is not inaccurate to call it a ‘baby’. It is perfectly accurate and doctors routinely do so. As a 2019 paper from the prestigious journal Midwifery concluded:

‘Midwifery scholarship, global midwifery professional bodies position statements and practice codes mostly employ the word ‘baby’ instead of ‘fetus’.’

International law also refers to the baby in the womb as a ‘child’, as in the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

‘Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”’

 

15 Is abortion necessary for women’s mental health?

No.

There is broad agreement that there is no good quality evidence that abortion improves women’s mental health, and that they will be no better off if they have an abortion compared to having the baby.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who are firmly pro-abortion, write (page 10):

‘Women with an unintended pregnancy should be informed that the evidence suggests that they are no more or less likely to suffer adverse psychological sequelae whether they have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy and have the baby.’

The latest major review on this topic was conducted by David Fergusson, a pro-choice psychologist from New Zealand. His studies are rated by people of all views as being the best studies on this topic in the world. He also concluded in the recent review:

‘At the present time there is no credible scientific evidence demonstrating that abortion has mental health benefits.’

Although some pro-abortion advocates have claimed that recent studies show abortion improves mental health, these are misleading claims that have not looked at the studies properly. The studies either do not show what they claim, or in many cases, are highly flawed and selective studies, not looking at the full range of evidence. The most neutral, up-to-date review is that of Fergusson, who is himself pro-choice. And his conclusions are very clear: there is no evidence that abortion improves mental health.

As an aside, Fergusson was asked not to publish his findings by his government – not because they were flawed, but because they thought they were politically inconvenient. This testifies to the care we need to take in evaluating these studies, because of the strong pro-abortion bias among certain researchers.

 

16 Does abortion harm women’s mental and physical health?

Yes.

Please see the previous section for background. In addition to finding that abortion does not improve mental health, Fergusson also showed that abortion is bad for women’s mental health: even when all the other possible factors were taken into account (so this cannot be explained by previous mental health problems, socioeconomic status, whether the pregnancy was wanted, and so on), abortion was still associated with higher rates of suicidal behaviour, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and anxiety. No recent research has convincingly overturned this conclusion. In a previous paper in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry, Fergusson lays out in much greater detail the evidence that there is a causal link between them. In that study, he suggests that as much as 5% of all mental illness may be attributed to abortion.

This is backed up by more general studies. Finnish studies have shown that the suicide rate after abortion is about 6 times higher than the suicide rate after giving birth, and that the risk of suicide is actually least when a woman has had a baby – it is even safer than not being pregnant at all.

This translates to a higher mortality rate for women having abortions, again shown in the Finnish study. Again, the chance of dying is far higher if you have had an abortion than if you have given birth in the previous year. Pregnant women had the lowest mortality rate of all groups, even lower than women who did not get pregnant at all. There is no evidence that abortion is safer for women physically than having a baby when looking at the overall data.

 

17 Does our law actually save babies?

Yes

A recent pro-choice study looked at women who were turned away from having abortions because of legal limits on abortion in those US states. It found that an enormous three quarters of them ended up continuing the pregnancy, even though they could have gone to a different state (as many of the participants did). So it is not true that ‘abortions will happen anyway’. Some of them do, of course, but laws protecting unborn children do stop an enormous number of abortions.

One website has helpfully collected a huge number of other studies in two posts showing the same thing: that pro-life laws do work to protect unborn children, even though they do not stop all abortions. But no one is claiming that they do.

 

18 Is there an international human right to abortion?

No.

This is obviously not the case, since the large majority of the world still mostly protect unborn children in their laws, and never would sign on to a treaty endorsing abortion. Nor is it true that the UN have said that there is a right to abortion.

In fact, international law states very clearly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

‘Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”’

This shows decisively that, in international law, the unborn ‘child’ is deserving of legal protection. Another international treaty, the ICCPR, says:

‘Article 6: Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.’

This is not allowed to be violated even ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed’. The right to life is that fundamental, and clearly extends to ‘every human being’ – which science demonstrates includes the unborn child.

Though some UN representatives and bodies have advocated for abortion, these represent only their individual opinions, and not genuine international consensus. Even those bodies which proclaim a right to abortion are not, in fact, agreed on this point. When the Human Rights Committee claimed that there is a right to abortion, the Chair of the Committee himself – an Egyptian human rights expert – said:

‘This language will imply legalization of abortion without restriction which in itself will deny the right to life of the unborn baby’.

He also said that the action of the Committee – which he himself led – ‘ignores all medical evidence’ of when the life of a child begins. So it is clear that there is no agreement even in these independent, non-binding UN bodies about abortion.

 

19 Will the UK impose a more radical abortion law on Gibraltar?

No.

There is no evidence they will do so, because this is a devolved issue on which Gibraltar has the right to decide itself. There is no reason to assume it will be, or let it be, treated like a colony – particularly in view of the right of self-determination which is expressly acknowledged in the very first sentence of the Gibraltar constitution 2007.

No one from Westminster has ever even suggested that the British government have an intention to do this. The only reason it happened in Northern Ireland was because Northern Ireland was without its own government for 3 years. That is not, and will not be, the case in Gibraltar.

Nor is there any pressure from the UK Supreme Court to legalise abortion in Gibraltar. This has effectively been conceded by the Gibraltarian government when they committed to holding a referendum and respecting a ‘no’ vote. If they were really obliged to change their law, they would not have put it to a referendum. This was after receiving legal advice from three of the top scholars in constitutional law in the world: professors from Oxford, Princeton and Faulkner universities, who pointed out very clearly that ‘there is no human rights obligation whatsoever for Gibraltar to change its law on abortion.’

 

20 Would the law have an effect on the disabled community?

Yes.

Legalised abortion has had a profound effect on the disabled community in other countries. For example, in Great Britain, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome before birth have had their lives ended by abortion, while this number is virtually 100% in Iceland, leading one geneticist in Iceland to declare that ‘we have basically eradicated, almost, Down Syndrome from our society.’

New prenatal testing has made these tests more accurate and common, and able to be carried out earlier, meaning that even without a specific clause for non-fatal disabilities (though see earlier for how vague the clause on ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ is), this proposed law could have an enormous impact on Gibraltar’s disabled community.

The UK’s law has been criticised by its own Disability Rights Commission for its law on abortion in the case of disability:

“The Section is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability, while time limits apply to other grounds set out in the Abortion Act, is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally.” Disability Rights Commission

Likewise, even a UN body has criticised the UK law allowing abortion in the case of disability:

“The Committee is concerned about perceptions in society that stigmatize persons with disabilities as living a life of less value than that of others and about the termination of pregnancy at any stage on the basis of fetal impairment… The Committee recommends that the State party amend its abortion law accordingly. Women’s rights to reproductive and sexual autonomy should be respected without legalizing selective abortion on the ground of fetal deficiency.” UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

It is therefore astonishing that the Government of Gibraltar would include this clause, albeit slightly modified (to a poorly-defined, non-technical notion of ‘fatal’ disability), in response to the claim that the UN requires Gibraltar to change its law!

 

21 Is medical abortion simpler and safer?

No.

Although medical abortion does not involve dismembering the foetus, it can still be extremely painful as it involves cutting off the blood and nutrient supply to the baby before traumatically expelling it from the uterus. At later stages, the baby first has to be injected with a lethal chemical in the heart or elsewhere, with no painkillers.

All medical abortions involve ending a human life, and almost all involve stopping a beating heart. There is no doubt that this is killing – as shown by the RCOG’s description of later abortions:

‘failure to perform feticide could result in a live birth and survival, which contradicts the intention of the abortion.’

But how do women experience it?

A recent review from NICE, which regulates clinical guidance in the UK, has looked at the evidence on what women wish they knew before having abortions. They analysed a number of studies showing that women were routinely misled about how painful and bloody medical abortions were, and how visibly human the baby was. Typical quotes included:

‘I kind of thought that I’d go there, bleed a little and then go back home, having it all done. But I learned that wasn’t the case.’ – 17-year old, first time pregnant.

‘There wasn’t enough information about the bleeding and the pain, I thought. The bleeding was massive. It was very frightening.’

‘Most of the women experienced the abortion with a bleeding that was larger than they were prepared for.’

‘I put a paper in the toilet so I would see that I had aborted… was totally unprepared for seeing the embryo… became very sad… I could clearly see that it would be a human being.’

‘You could see fetus, where the ears were, the arms, I was really frightened.’

‘In hindsight I wish I hadn’t looked but I did, and that was probably the most traumatic thing I’ve ever seen or done. I thought ‘what on earth…?’

‘Many participants undergoing medical terminations had not expected the procedure to last for as long as it did: ‘Nobody told me how long I might be in the labour ward for (I was told 6-12 hours and I was there for three days which I later found out was quite common)’.

As we can see, it is common for abortion providers and advocates to routinely mislead women about the simplicity of medical abortion.

There is more on the safety of medical abortions. A recent review from American obstetrician Ingrid Skop summarises the evidence:

‘Complications occur four times more frequently from medical as compared to surgical abortions. The average women bleeds for nine to 16 days, and eight percent will bleed longer than a month. One percent will require hospitalization, one percent will have ongoing viable pregnancies (it will fail to kill the fetus), and surgery for incomplete abortion will be required in three to eight percent of cases. If a pregnancy continues to birth, teratogenic effects such as clubfoot, cranial nerve anomalies, and limb abnormalities related to misoprostol are sometimes seen. The side effects of cramping, vaginal bleeding, haemorrhage, nausea, weakness, fever/chills, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and dizziness occur in almost all women.’

‘Epidemiologic studies in Finland are of better quality than those in the U.S. because single-payer healthcare and meticulous medical record-keeping ensure that all pregnancies and all medical events are accurately recorded. A study of more than 42,000 women receiving abortions at less than 7 week’s gestational age documented that adverse events occurred in one in five women who had medical abortions, and almost six percent required surgery. The rate of complications was four times higher in medical than in surgical abortions. Another Finnish study of 18,000 women found an eight percent rate of surgery for medical abortion failures in the first trimester, and an almost 40 percent surgery rate in the second trimester. Finally, a meta-analysis of all available mifepristone/misoprostol studies worldwide, including more than 47,000 women, found a 4.8 percent treatment failure rate, and 1.1 percent continuing pregnancies.’

Again, the safety of medical abortions is frequently exaggerated – complication rates are reasonably high. And in any case, all medical abortions end a human life.

 

22 Is there a non-religious argument for being pro-life?

Yes.

Though many religious people are pro-life, the pro-life movement extends across all religions and no religion at all. The GPLM is proud to have people from all faiths and none as part of the movement.

Contrary to popular claims, being religious is not the only reason to be pro-life. We can put the pro-life argument very simply:

  • All human beings have equal rights and deserve respect and protection
  • Foetuses are human beings
  • Therefore, foetuses have equal rights and deserve respect and protection

The first premise is something we should all agree with. It is enshrined many times in international law and is a key commitment of anyone who calls themselves liberal, or progressive, or committed to equality or inclusion.

But the second premise is also impossible to dispute: as shown earlier, 95% of biologists agree that a new human being begins to exist at fertilisation: and so foetuses are human beings. Again, international law agrees, when it says that the child has the right to legal protection before birth.

This can all be explained in much greater detail, but that is the basic argument. It needs no religious worldview at all – it is an argument we can all agree with regardless of our philosophy of religion. And it is an argument that is backed up time and time again by science.

A helpful website for secular pro-lifers is www.secularprolife.org

Finally, it was only recently that Professor Arif Ahmed of the University of Cambridge, a prominent atheist and patron of the Secularist and Humanist Society of Gibraltar, wrote in the Gibraltar Chronicle of 14th January 2019: “The moral status of abortion is philosophically vexed. Unlike many atheists I myself think it raises serious moral problems that have nothing to do with maternal autonomy. When abortion is permissible should depend on when the foetus starts to be a person i.e. a bearer of rights. Before then it is hard to justify any restrictions on abortion at all; after it, it is hard to distinguish it from infanticide. But what that point is depends on facts about foetal psychology and neurology that remain quite uncertain to us. Until we know more, my own feeling is that there is a precautionary case for only limited liberalisation.”

The view of the Gibraltar Pro Life Movement – and anyone who believes in human rights – is that the only thing we all share in common, and hence the only thing that could ground human equality, is being a human. This is the terminology enshrined in international law – all human beings have a right to life. And as seen above, it is science, not religion, that informs us that the child in the womb is indeed a human being.