MADRID (Reuters) - About 23,000 Gibraltarians are called to vote on Thursday in a referendum to ease one of the strictest abortion bans in the region.
Criminal law in the British enclave bans abortion in all circumstances and carries penalties that can go up to life imprisonment though not a single woman or a doctor has ever been convicted, a Gibraltar government spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
"Abortion simply doesn't happen," she said. Gibraltar inhabitants can easily travel to Spain or elsewhere, she added.
Still, the referendum campaign has been at times heated and divisive as the wording was understood by opponents as too permissive.
Voters will be asked to approve an amendment to the criminal law that allows pregnancy termination carried out by registered physician within the first 12 weeks if the pregnancy carries more risk than termination and, afterwards, under certain circumstances such as when the foetus suffers from fatal abnormality.
The wording of the law is "too extreme" and could be interpreted as allowing abortion "all through the full nine months of pregnancy," Gibraltar Pro-Life Movement said on its Facebook page.
"Everything that happens after the 12th week (of pregnancy) is about saving the life of the mother or a fatal, fatal foetal abnormality," said Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar's chief minister, who supports the "yes" camp, in an interview on local GBC TV station.
The referendum was originally scheduled for March 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The enclave, which is located on Spain's southern tip, has been a leader in terms of COVID-19 vaccination and has been of Europe's first territory in scrapping the mask obligation outdoors.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Marguerita Choy)