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Spanish government anger women with new abortion proposals

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Deborah Cowan
WVoN co-editor

Proposals by Conservative Spanish authorities to tighten abortion laws prompted women’s groups to take to the streets of Madrid this week.

A protest rally took place in the capital’s Tirso de Molina square on Sunday, with hundreds of Spaniards, predominantly women, turning up to protest that new abortion regulations will have a serious impact on the rights of mothers.

The laws which currently govern abortion were put in place in 2010 by a previous, more liberal, government.

Spain’s 2010 Abortion Law, ‘La Ley de Plazos’ allows women to have a termination up to 14 weeks into their pregnancy.  However, they are also able to abort up to 22 weeks if there is a serious health issue for the mother or if the foetus shows a level of serious deformity.

If extreme abnormalities or malformations are discovered, then a woman may have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy, subject to an ethics committee approval.

The law’s provisions are in keeping with those in many European countries.

‘La Ley de Plazos’ was broadly welcomed in Spain as an important measure for the rights of women and mothers.

Previous abortion law had held that a woman could have a termination only in cases of rape, serious deformity or when the mother’s mental or physical health was threatened.

However, Spain’s current Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon is in favour of a return to more austere measures, and wants to ban the aborting of a foetus which has shown to have physical deformities.

‘I don’t understand why we should deprive a foetus of life by allowing abortion for the simple reason that it suffers a handicap or deformity’, he said.

He also cited the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which calls on nations to ‘adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of disabled people’.

Additionally, he will ask Parliament to make parental permission mandatory where 16- and 17-year-olds want to end pregnancies.

But feminist protesters say that these changes are a ‘step back’ for women, and redolent of life in Spain under the dictatorship of General Franco.

Many of the women who turned up to voice their concern chanted ‘we give birth, we decide,’ and ‘not one step backwards’.  One woman painted her body with the slogan ‘curas y jueces fuera de mi cuerpo’ – judges and priests away from my body.

Feminist organisations are not alone in their dissent – according to left wing publication ‘El Pais’, the measures are unpopular even among conservative voters, with 81 per cent of Spanish people saying they are against banning abortion where the foetus is found to have physical deformities.

A member of the Feminist Assembly, Justa Montero, who helped organise the protest assembly, said that the measures would impact on women’s rights.

‘It seems to us a throwback to the Franco dictatorship and we are not willing to accept under any circumstances measures that will take away our rights.’

Gador Joya, spokesman for the “Right to Life” collective, said that banning terminations in cases of malformation ‘is a step forward for the protection of the right to life.’

However, head of the Spanish association of abortion clinics, Santiago Barambio, who is also one of the authors of  ‘La Ley de Plazos’, suggested that Gallardón is simply acting in accordance with ‘the extreme right and the ultra-Catholics, which are perhaps a minority but are very powerful economically.’

The Popular Party, of which Gallardón is a member, won a landslide victory in the Spanish elections in November.

Their campaign included a pledge to change abortion laws.  It seems they are now trying to make good on that pledge….. or will they listen to their women?

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