Delivering on election promise, Spain's Rajoy proposes major abortion limitations

Under a bill expected to pass, Spain will allow abortion only in cases of rape or danger to the mother.

Juan Medina / Reuters
Demonstrators take part in a pro-choice protest against the Spanish government's proposed new abortion law outside Moncloa Palace in Madrid today. The text on their masks reads, "Your mouth is fundamental against fundamentalism."

The Spanish government today proposed the most restrictive legal reforms on abortion regulations in decades, delivering on a divisive but much anticipated campaign promise.

Under the proposed reforms, abortion will only be legal in case of rape or grave danger to the physical or psychological well-being of the mother. The bill has to go through parliament but is expected to pass with few changes, since the ruling conservative Popular Party has enough votes to approve any law unilaterally.

In 2010, the previous government reformed a 1985 law to allow women to unconditionally decide to terminate pregnancy up to its 14th week, and under certain conditions after that, including fetal malformations, depending on how far along the pregnancy is. It also allowed teenagers to abort without parental consent starting at age 16.

The proposed reforms are a return to the 1985 law, which legalized abortion, but with more limitations than the original. Although the bill had been expected, it spurred passionate reactions. The conservative wing of the Popular Party, the most sympathetic to the Catholic Church, criticized the law as still too permissive and demanded zero-abortion regulations. The main opposition parties lambasted it for trampling women rights and implored female legislators to vote against it.

Multiple civil society groups, from judges to feminists, protested the developments, while conservative groups applauded. As the cabinet gathered to announce the bill, rival groups shouted slogans outside the prime minister’s office and protestors marched outside the Popular Party’s headquarters.

“It was part of our electoral promise,” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said. “It’s along the same lines of the 1985 law that was in place in Spain for 20 years.”

Polls have consistently shown that most Spaniards are against reforming the current law, while a slightly larger share of responders want abortion regulations to focus on how far along the pregnancy is, rather than on predetermined conditions.

But the Popular Party is catering to the conservative bloc, which has been disenchanted with the government’s handling of Catalonia's secessionist drive and other more pragmatic policies, from decentralization to immigration.

Most European countries regulate abortion based on the term of a pregnancy, as opposed to conditioning the circumstances under which it’s allowed. Only four countries do not allow unconditional abortion within a limited timeframe.

Under Spain's proposed reforms, abortion will only be allowed until the 22nd week (Under federal law in the US, abortion is prohibited when a fetus is considered capable of surviving outside the womb – about 28 weeks, according to Roe v. Wade – although individual states can and have set their own more restrictive laws.) Health risks must be long-term and women will need three separate doctors’ opinions to approve an abortion.

Minors will require parental supervision and doctors will be free to object out of conscience. Only life-threatening fetal malformations will be allowed.

The government said the reforms rebalance the rights between the unborn and women. In effect they eliminate a woman’s right to abort, making it a conditioned exception. They also eliminate the criminal responsibility of women in case of an abortion.

Women and feminist civil groups are organizing marches to reject the reforms. Social networking sites and forums, as well as TV and radio talk shows were crowded with opposing views from across society.

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