The Church Battles Reforms in Spain’s Abortion Law

Angela Castellanos

Proposed reforms in Spain's abortion laws recommended by a government-appointed commission of doctors, lawyers, academics and government representatives have the Catholic Church up in arms.

A draft of Spain’s reformed
abortion bill has ignited the Catholic Church, which called its congregation as
well as the Catholic politicians to vote against the bill even though it has
not yet been submitted to Congress.

The bill reflects the recommendations
of the Spanish parliamentary commission, which for six months examined the
effect of Spain’s
restrictive abortion laws. Last February,
the parliamentary commission proposed a reform decriminalizing abortion in Spain
so abortion would be removed from the Penal Code and included under the sexual
health regulations.

The report, along with one
issued by the expert panel of doctors, lawyers, academics and government
representatives appointed by the Spanish government in September 2008, is at
the base of the draft abortion reform bill to be introduced in the legislature
this year.

The proposed reform authorizes
free abortion between the 14th and 22nd week of pregnancy
if a medical certification states risks for the mother or the baby. Moreover, it
would allow16-year-old girls to have an abortion without consent of their
parents. In addition, it states that providers’ conscience objections cannot
become an obstacle for women’s access to the medical proceeding in the public
health system. 

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Since 1985, abortion has
been legal in Spain
only in instances of rape, severe fetal abnormalities or if the mother’s mental
or physical health is at risk. However, Spanish women have to struggle to get a
medical certification or a police report (in case of rape) in order to access a
legal abortion, which is why women prefer to travel to London if they can afford it to end their
unwanted pregnancies. Those who get the required document for legal abortion
often have to pay a private clinic because doctors in the state health service
refuse. In fact, the public system performs only 3 percent of the 112,000
abortions performed in Spain
each year. 

This situation seemed
discriminatory by the defenders of the voluntary termination of pregnancy, and
inequitable for the Socialist Party.

The proposed bill is in line with other sexual and
reproductive reforms carried out by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
such as the free sale of the emergency contraception pill in pharmacies without

The question now is does the
Catholic Church have the influence required to stop the abortion reform?

One can realize that Spain is no
longer the bastion of the Catholic Church if we take into account other reforms
promoted and approved by Zapatero’s Socialist government such as the full
marriage rights for gay couples, the facilitation of divorce proceedings, embryonic
stem cells research authorization and the removal of Catholicism being taught
at public schools.

Looking at society,
several polls are showing a secular trend. According to an annual survey by sociologist
Juan Díez-Nicolás, president of Asep research institute, less than 25 percent
of Spaniards say they practice Catholicism beyond social events like weddings
and baptisms.

Regarding abortion, the
daily El País carried out a survey that found 65 percent of Spaniards support
abortion in the first three months.

The Catholic Church is not
alone in its campaign against abortion. Pro-life activists are checking the
activities of the clinics accredited for voluntary termination of pregnancies.
As a result of their formal complaints, police investigations have opened files
against various clinics, but defenders of the proposed reform are not sleeping.

In order to promote the
abortion law, they started a YouTube channel, called "A favor 2009, Por el
Cambio de la Ley
en España" (In favor 2009, for the change of Spanish law), which can be viewed at


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