The law remains more restrictive than in most of the rest of Europe. | JON NAZCA

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A majority of Gibraltarian voters have supported the easing of a strict abortion law in a referendum, officials in the tiny British territory on the southern tip of Spain said on Friday.

Around 62% of voters who took part backed the change in Thursday's ballot, where turnout was about 52%, Gibraltar's parliament said.

The vote "is an excellent result for women," chief minister Fabian Picardo, who backed 'yes' in a divisive campaign, said on Twitter. "We will also work to introduce the new services we will require to ensure counselling and safe and legal abortions," he added.

Gibraltar's criminal law had banned abortion in all circumstances, with a maximum punishment in theory of life in prison. While no one has ever been convicted, citizens and residents are forced to go to Spain or travel to Britain to have an abortion.
The referendum had originally been scheduled for March 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote was on an amendment to the criminal law that would allow pregnancies to be terminated by a registered physician within the first 12 weeks in cases where the pregnancy carries more risk to the mother's health than termination.

Abortions would be permitted at a later stage of pregnancy under a narrow set of circumstances.

Even with the amendment approved on Thursday, the law remains more restrictive than in most of the rest of Europe.

Pro-life groups, who opposed the new bill, say the wording of the law could be interpreted in a way that would ultimately allow most abortions after 12 weeks of conception.