Catholic Crusaders No More

Kathleen Reeves

Today, there is a social liberalism in Spain that counters the influence of the Catholic Church on some issues.

Spain is considering giving women the choice to have an abortion, and predictably, pro-life groups in the country are making noise. But I’m hopeful that the proposed liberalization of the law will become a reality, and I have reason to believe that it might.

Some Americans think of Spain as a conservative country in the grips of the Catholic Church, and indeed, the Church has been a major force, and perhaps even the main character, in the country’s history. But since the mid-seventies, when the reign of Franco came to an end, Spain has been changing dramatically. Through the eighties and nineties, the Spanish people’s reaction to decades of totalitarianism yielded some of the most exciting artistic and cultural movements in Europe, and today, there is a social liberalism in Spain that counters the influence of the Catholic Church on some issues.

For example, as we bicker about gay marriage in the United States and as many gay couples travel to the two states in which same-sex marriage is recognized, gay couples have been marrying in Spain for four years. The Catholic Church was ticked off at that, too. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, along with Spain’s Parliament, didn’t much care.

So I’m surprised that it’s taken Spain this long to reconsider its restrictions on abortion. Currently, abortion is only legal in cases of rape or when a woman’s physical or mental health is threatened. (I wonder how freely the mental health provision has been interpreted.) But, unsurprisingly, the law hasn’t prevented women from having abortions. Only two percent of abortions in Spain take place in public clinics, and whether the other 98 percent are happening safely or not is anyone’s guess.

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Under the proposed law, women 16 and over would be able to have an abortion without parental consent, which would again vault Spain ahead of the United States, as 34 of these states require some kind of parental involvement when a minor seeks an abortion. Granted, as a body of states, the US works differently than a country like Spain when it comes to making progress on issues like reproductive and other rights. But Spain’s ability to cast off its religious baggage while maintaining its religious identity could be a lesson for Americans. Faith is important to us, but it doesn’t have to choke us.

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