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ABORTION REFORM

Spain “takes a step back” while other nations progress in abortion

Former Socialist minister adds voice to women’s group protests over reform which signals end to free choice on terminations

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said on Friday that his proposed Abortion Law reform bill “restores the balance that the Constitutional Court set in 1985."

But many voices outside the ruling Popular Party (PP) criticized the proposed changes, which allow for terminations in only two instances: if the baby presents a risk to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape. The key points to the bill include: an end to the right to have a termination; abortions will now only be permitted if a woman is raped or there is a risk to the mother; any risks must involve "lasting harm" to the mother's health; fetal deformation will no longer be allowed as a reason to request an abortion; fetal deformation will only be a valid reason if it is "incompatible with life" for the baby; a woman requesting an abortion will need the approval of two doctors outside the clinic treating her; physicians will be allowed to refuse to perform abortions if they believe it goes against their basic or religious principles; and those under 18 seeking an abortion will need to be accompanied by their parents, and have their permission, before the procedure can be performed.

The Socialists will ask Congress for the final vote on the bill to be taken in secret and will ask PP members to vote "as if they were women," said deputy secretary general Elena Valenciano, who called the measure a "counter-reform."

Former Health Minister Trinidad Jiménez, who served in the Socialist Cabinet when the law was approved in 2010, said the bill was a step back.

"Own decisions"

"When other countries are approving more progressive legislation, Spain is stepping backwards," she said. "We are issuing a joint call for all women to demand that we are left to make our own decisions."

Under the proposal, women who have a serious health risk or face psychological factors will have up to their 22nd week of pregnancy to qualify for an abortion. In the case of rape, they will have up to their 14th week.

Ruiz-Gallardón explained that abortions will be practiced at clinics "that meet the qualifications," but didn't go into detail.

Pro-abortion groups immediately accused the government of trying to make it harder for women to undergo the procedure by not only tightening the law but also making it difficult to find clinics around the country.

Nevertheless, Ruiz-Gallardón assured that the government will offer women who are thinking about having the procedure all the information and resources available to them but they cannot refuse the counseling provided.

Women's groups across Spain immediately reacted to the government's proposed changes. The Women's Bar Association in Catalonia called the new legislation "repulsive."

"Abortion is part of a woman's health rights," the association said in a statement, quoting from a Council of Europe directive issued on 2008.

"In countries where there are progressive abortion laws, the abortion rates are much lower. In countries where there are more restrictions, there occur more deaths and health problems that prevent women from giving birth in the future."

One PP deputy compared abortion to gender violence. Luis Peral, the education spokesman in the Senate, said that the changes "satisfy" an important sector of PP voters. "Abortion is very dramatic for women and a form of gender violence that sometimes they don't want to admit," Peral said.

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