Jezerca Tigani. :: SUR
At the height of debate over Spain’s proposed abortion reform Amnesty’s Jezerca Tigani has expressed her outrage to the government
pain has been taken to task by Amnesty International, a leading global non- governmental organisation focused on human rights with more than 3 million members, over its highly controversial proposed abortion bill.
Last week, Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, wrote to the country’s Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, to express outrage at the proposal that would, say its critics, limit women’s rights, and to urge the government to reconsider its position on this issue.
Here, Ms Tigani speaks to SUR in English about that letter, the organisation’s concerns, and their hopes for a repeal of the bill.
-Can you tell us the details of what you included in the letter to the Minister of Justice?
-Amnesty International wrote to the Spain’s Minister of Justice raising its concerns to the new bill, and asked in the letter to meet with the Minister in the coming days to discuss the concerns in person.
The letter covered the main points of concern for the organisation - such as the series of obstacles to accessing a safe and legal abortion for women.
For example, any woman or girl seeking an abortion would have to obtain two certificates from doctors at different centres, confirming any risks to the life and health of the woman and the foetus. She would also be obliged to receive counselling and information on non-medical issues, and then to wait seven days during a “reflection” period. Parental consent will be obligatory for girls between 16 and 18 years of age.
In addition, the bill also requires that women and girls pregnant as a result of rape report the crime to the police before they can access a safe and legal abortion. This would be particularly problematic for migrant women and girls with so-called ‘irregular status’, who would in some cases risk being expelled from the country if they went to the authorities to report the rape.
The organisation also said that the bill would have a negative impact on health professionals, creating a climate of fear that would make doctors turn patients away and fail to provide information to women. It puts medical judgment under question and limits health professionals’ capacity to provide information, advice and medical services to their patients.
-Why was this letter sent now? Have you corresponded directly with the Spanish government on this issue before?
-Overall the key message that we’re highlighting with this letter is that this law would clearly constitute a retrogressive measure. If the state would like to reduce the number of abortions, it has to seek policies and means that do not put the state in breach of its obligations under international human rights law, in particular the CESCR [The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights]. This proposed law reform would breach multiple obligations under the CESCR and other treaties to protect the human rights of women and girls.
Within the framework of the international campaign ‘Stop Violence Against Women,’ Amnesty has maintained for over 10 years regular contacts with various governments on issues related to domestic violence against women, trafficking and access to justice for women victims of gender violence. This letter is the first of its kind covering concerns referring to the ‘anteproyecto.’
-Are you expecting a response from the government? If so, when and how, and what do you expect them to say?
-We don’t know if the government will reply to the letter, but we hope they will as this would show that they take the issue seriously. The issue is not if the government replies to a letter from Amnesty International, but to respond positively to the call from of the organisation, and others in and outside the country, and to repeal this law once and for all.
-Why do you believe the Spanish government proposed this bill at this time? Are they being led by external or internal factors? And on what are they basing their arguments for the bill?
-The Popular Party [Spain’s ruling party] justified the proposed bill with the need to further protect the right to life and to enhance the defence of the foetus. It seems that they’re trying to keep their election campaign promises. In its election manifesto the party promised to “change the current regulation on abortion to reinforce the protection of the right to life and of minors”.
Also, in 2010 the Popular Party presented a constitutional challenge against the abortion law currently in force on the grounds of the need to protect life.
The government also argued that if adopted the bill will increase the birth rate and this will cause positive effects on the economy. However, the government itself doesn’t detail which these impacts will be and recognises that it is not the main reason.
-Why has Amnesty International taken up this cause?
-Amnesty is joining women’s human rights movements around the world in their efforts to advance sexual and reproductive rights. The organisation is launching its global campaign ‘My body, My rights’ on 8th March. With this campaign, Amnesty illustrates the damage caused to hundreds of millions of women worldwide by oppressive legislation and state interference. It’s a shame for Spain to be introducing such a regressive measure.
The ‘anteproyecto’ proposes limiting the information that women have available to them on which to make a free informed decision about their health. It also proposes obligatory counselling on non-medical matters that women would be obliged to receive. It also introduces an obligatory reflection period, and on survivors of rape it completely undermines their right to have information about, and access to, safe and legal abortion services, questioning a woman’s capacity to make decisions for herself on health matters - quite apart from the fact that for many women who have few economic resources and who work informally, the number of days you might have to take off from work may be unfeasible.
Also, we believe that women should not have third parties involved in decision-making on their health concerns.
But as we say, the main overarching argument that we make in this statement is that this would be a retrogressive measure under international human rights law and flies in the face of the recommendations made by the UN and others.
-How does Spain’s stance on abortion compare with other European countries?
-Amnesty International doesn’t compare countries. The organisation has raised concerns over the stance on abortion in the past in Ireland, Hungary and Poland. We fear that the proposed bill, in Spain, if passed, might set the example for other countries in the region.
-How hopeful are you the bill will be repealed?
-This is to be seen, of course! We hope that the pressure from the women’s movement in Spain and abroad will encourage the government to repeal the bill