More than 23,000 people are registered to vote in the British territory where abortion is currently illegal unless it is needed to save the mother’s life.
The procedure is classified as “child destruction” and punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
On Thursday, voters are being asked if they agree with a 2019 decision by parliament to allow exemptions to the abortion law on health grounds.
The changes would allow pregnancies to be terminated up to the 12th week if:
Doctors deem the pregnant woman’s physical or mental health to be at risk
There is a “substantial risk that the fetus is suffering from a fatal fetal abnormality”
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who heads the Socialist Labour government, said it was an “important seminal referendum on women’s reproductive rights.”
“I very much look forward to this day being a day that goes down in history, whatever the result,” he added.
Gibraltar’s Abortion Referendum in context
Gibraltar is British land on Spain’s southern tip. Many locals live and work across the border.
In Spain, you can legally have an abortion upon request up to the 14th week of pregnancy.
Meanwhile in England, Scotland and Wales, abortion is allowed at up to 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy, in line with the Abortion Act 1967.
Most political parties have united behind a yes vote ahead of the referendum.
The leaders of the two parties in Gibraltar’s governing coalition, the Socialist Labour Party and the Liberal Party, have joined with the Together Gibraltar party in urging voters to back the change.
However, the leader of the main opposition, Social Democrats, is against the proposed alterations.
The question on voting cards at 15 polling stations is, “Should the Crimes Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”
Results were expected after midnight.
About 80% of Gibraltarians are Catholic and the Bishop of Gibraltar has spoken out against the proposed changes.
The Gibraltar Pro-Life Movement has also run a “Save Babies, Vote No” campaign.
It argues in practice the legal change amounts to introducing abortion on demand because the mental health proviso can be misused.
In contrast, campaigners for the “Gibraltar for Yes” group say the claim is “ludicrous.”
They say women should have the right to decide about terminating their pregnancy which they insist should be part of public health care.
The referendum was postponed from March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.