Under a controversial proposal announced before Christmas that will tighten the country’s abortion laws, women in Spain will no longer have the freedom to choose to have a termination during the early stages of pregnancy.
Should the new rules come into effect, which they are widely expected to do, abortions will now only be approved in the case of rape or if there is a serious risk to the mother’s mental or physical wellbeing, but not in cases where there is a possibility of foetal deformities. A minimum of two doctors will be required to sign off any potential termination and a young woman under the age of 18 will also require parental authorisation.
The measure, which reverses a long-term trend in most developed countries to reject the limiting of abortion practices, will make Spain’s stance on this issue one of the most restrictive in Europe. It reverses the country’s 2010 law, introduced by the then PSOE (socialist) government, which allowed women to have an abortion without citing a reason up to the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Official figures show that since this more liberal legislation was implemented the year-on-year increase in the number of abortions is about 5,000 - which is considerably lower than many critics had expected when it was first decreed.
At a press conference, Spain’s justice minister and chief architect of the tougher new rules, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, told reporters: “The value of the life of an unborn child cannot depend solely on the will of the pregnant mother”.
He went on to say that the reform would “defend the protection of life of the unborn baby and women’s rights”, adding that it would “always act in the interests of the woman.”
Women who do have abortions outside the new norms will, stressed Mr Gallardón, not be prosecuted, as they would have been under a law from 1985. However, doctors who carry out illegal procedures could face three years imprisonment.
Unsurprisingly, anti-abortion associations are championing the planned legislative change. Right To Life’s spokesperson, Gador Joya, released a statement saying: “We welcome that they have finally decided to end the right to abortion…This is no doubt a step towards our aim of achieving zero abortions.”
The proposals, also backed by the Catholic Church amongst other influential organisations, represent one of the most controversial decisions yet made by Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right government. It will, undoubtedly, because of its inherent emotive and polemical nature for the electorate, be used to define the differences between his conservative party, the PP, and the left-wing opposition parties.
A survey carried out in April this year by independent polling firm Metroscopia, revealed how split the Spanish population is on this issue. 46 per cent wanted to keep the more liberal 2010 law, whilst 41 per cent wanted a more restrictive regime to be adopted.
“Not a response to public demands”
As expected, the draft law has been met with fury from the opposition parties. The leader of the PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, fumed on Twitter: “Gallardón’s abortion law does not respond to public demands but to the demands of the most hardline sectors inside the PP.”
His colleague, the Socialist party spokesperson, Elena Valenciano added: “The law is unnecessary, cynical and unfair because it damages women’s autonomy,”
whilst Femen, an umbrella organisation for women’s groups in Spain, posted on the microblogging site: “If they take away our right to decide, we’ll have to abort morality, the Church and everything else that restricts our freedom.” In addition, it flagged up the possible re-emergence of “abortion tourism”, with an increasing number of women in Spain travelling overseas to have terminations.
The angered pro-choice campaigners organised a series of protests in major cities across the country last weekend, including one in the centre of Malaga.
One of the demonstrators, Eva Ruiz López, tells this newspaper: “The law is trying to turn back time. It is a disgrace! It will be detrimental to women as it takes control away from them.”
It is a view shared by Mijas resident, retired nurse Cathy Fitzpatrick. She says: “I am totally opposed to this new law because it will lead to an increase in backstreet abortions. I have seen first-hand how horrific they can be. There is no moral or ethical excuse for the government to introduce this change, in my opinion. To me, it is a violation of human rights.”
Danish-born Katrine Poulsen, a gynaecologist who with her husband has adopted two girls before the family moved to Marbella several years ago, adds: “It [the reform] is sexist and cruel and, I imagine, based on religious bigotry. It will drive more and more vulnerable women to unscrupulous places to have terminations.”