No new date has been set for holding the ballot, which was to have taken place on March 19 on an issue which has exposed sharply-opposing views within this normally closely-knit British enclave at the southernmost tip of Spain.
“The concern.. is that the advice to elderly people to stay home and avoid public places may appear to contradict the call to a vote by universal suffrage which could then lead the result of the Referendum, whatever it may turn out to be, to be called into question,” a government statement said late Thursday.
“This would potentially deprive the result of the referendum of democratic legitimacy,” it said.
After discussion with all other party leaders, the campaign leaders and the Referendum Administrator, we have agreed to postpone the Abortion Referendum. These are extraordinary times & we will not hesitate to take the necessary extraordinary decisions which keep our people safe. pic.twitter.com/wRPxprI5AN
— Fabian Picardo (@FabianPicardo) March 12, 2020
Except in cases where it would save the mother's life, abortion is currently banned in Gibraltar on pain of life imprisonment, although such a penalty has not been applied in modern times.
The decision was announced after Chief Minister Fabian Picardo held talks in London with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
So far, only one person has tested positive for the virus in Gibraltar, although Spain is one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, with more than 3,000 infections and 84 deaths.
But Picardo said there was “no question” of either Gibraltar or Spain imposing restrictions at the frontier, which is crossed every day by some 14,000 workers from Spain, the vast majority who live in the impoverished city of La Linea which flanks the enclave.
“Slowing the inevitable spread of the virus in Gibraltar requires us to act decisively and to adapt on a dynamic basis to the circumstances as they develop,” he said, warning there were “difficult weeks ahead”.