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Number of abortions in Spain continues downward trend

Figures for 2013 reveal a 3.2% fall compared to previous year

Demographic changes and wider availability of morning-after pill partly responsible

A demonstration in Madrid earlier this year in support of abortion on demand. Ampliar foto
A demonstration in Madrid earlier this year in support of abortion on demand. EL PAÍS

The latest official statistics confirm what can be considered a growing trend in Spain: the number of abortions being carried out in the country is steadily falling. The latest figures, for 2013, have just been released by the Health Ministry, and show that the number of women who terminated a pregnancy fell in that year by 3.2% compared to the year before. The figure is the lowest recorded in seven years.

At total of 108,690 women opted for the procedure during 2013 – 3,700 fewer than the previous year – under legislation that has been in place in Spain since 2010, and allows access to abortion on demand until the 14th week of pregnancy.

Abortion laws in Spain

The current abortion laws in Spain were introduced by the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2010. Allowing for terminations on demand up to the 14th week of pregnancy, they did away with a much more restrictive law that had been in place since the mid-1980s, and allowed abortions only in certain circumstances, such as rape, accredited fetal deformities of the fetus and if continuing with the pregnancy would result in physical or mental harm to the mother.

The current Popular Party government, which is led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, had pledged to reform the Socialists’ legislation, taking Spain back to laws similar to those of the 1980s. The minister in charge of getting the bill through Congress, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, had spoken about an even stricter law, removing the option of abortions in the case of fetal deformities. But in the end, Gallardón failed to find sufficient support for the changes, and resigned from his post over the issue earlier this year.

Since then, Prime Minister Rajoy has announced that the government will introduce a change to the current legislation so that minors will no longer be able to access the procedure without the consent of their parents. But so far that reform has not been put in place.

The majority of the women who decided to have an abortion in 2013 (19.43%) were aged between 20 and 24. The minority (3.92%) were over 40. There are no specific figures for minors, although the data supplied by the Health Ministry reveals that of the total number of terminations, 12.23% were performed on women aged “19 and under.”

The figures also reveal that the majority of the procedures, 68.51%, were performed before the eighth week of pregnancy, and just 1.33% after the 21st week. “Abortions continue to be carried out early,” explains Isabel Serrano, a gynecologist from Spain’s Family Planning Federation. “That is something that has improved now that access is less bureaucratic. Obviously it would be better if there were no abortions, but that is not possible.”

Experts have partly attributed this fall to the fact that much of Spain’s immigrant population and many young Spanish females have left the country over recent years due to the economic crisis, as well as the increased use of the morning-after pill.

In 2013, the number of foreigners living in Spain fell 7.8% compared to the previous year, with 4.7 million people from that segment leaving, according to figures from the National Statistics Institute (INE). Members of Spain’s immigrant community have historically opted for the procedure more than native Spaniards, proportionally. According to figures supplied by the Health Ministry, 63.07% of those opting for abortions in 2013 were Spanish, followed by Latin Americans, who accounted for 19.96%. In comparison, in 2009, those figures were at 47.99% and 23.85%, respectively.

“But it’s not just the return of immigrants,” explains Blanca Cañedo, a member of the Acai association of accredited abortion clinics. “Young female Spaniards are also emigrating and that has influenced the figures.”

As well as the reduction in the fertile population in Spain, public financing for modern contraceptive methods – such as the morning-after pill – has also contributed to the fall in abortions.

The information supplied by the Health Ministry confirms another trend: the highest number of abortions carried out in public healthcare centers, as opposed to private clinics. They only accounted for 8.96% of the total in 2013, but that marks a steep rise on 2009, when the proportion was just 2.03%.