Spain Drops Its Effort To Roll Back Women’s Abortion Rights

CREDIT: AP Images- Andres Kudacki

Anti-abortion activists march against the government's plans to limit restrictions.

Following months of protests, the Spanish government announced that it’s ending its plans to severely restrict legal abortions in the country, dropping a bill that would have criminalized the procedure in most cases. If the proposed restrictions had passed, abortion would only be legal in Spain in the case of rape or if the mother’s health was in danger, which would make around 100,000 of the 118,000 abortions performed in Spain illegal. Women seeking abortions would have been required to have two doctors verify that she met those conditions.

While the current restrictions will not go into effect, Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy has not given up his party’s plans to try to limit abortion access for women. He said that he wants to change the country’s current abortion laws so that minors would need parental consent before obtaining abortions.

The proposed anti-abortion bill was a major component of the platform of the current ruling party, the People’s Party, when it came to power in 2011. The decision to not implement the restrictions resulted in the resignation of Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, the country’s justice minister, who says that he feels he has let down the people of Spain by failing to turn the bill that outlined the restrictions into a law. The announcement also led to a pro-life rally in Madrid by supporters of the bill.

However, 70 to 80 percent of Spaniards opposed the restrictions. When the bill first passed in February, thousands of people held protests in Spain and Paris; over 15,000 people attended one protest and activists demanded to enter their bodies into commercial registries to emphasize that they owned them.

Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the decision to not implement the restrictions is a “a huge victory for the countless Spanish women and men who have fought so hard to see their country’s laws changed to protect safe and legal abortion, and to keep these vital legal protections in place.” She added that the Center will work to prevent Rajoy’s government from enacting other restrictions, such as parental consent laws, saying “restricting young women’s access to essential reproductive health care services, including abortion, poses serious threats to their health and human rights.”

In 1985, Spain’s government decriminalized abortion in cases of rape or if there was risk to the fetus or the mother, including the mother’s mental health; abortions could be preformed up to 12 and 22 weeks respectively. Under the 1985 law, most women who got abortions used the mental health portion of the law to obtain them. In 2010, Spain’s government eased restrictions on abortion, which allowed it up to 14 weeks without restrictions or penalties and up to 22 weeks if the mother’s or fetus’s life was at risk and did not require minors to get permission before obtaining abortions.

People opposed to the possible restrictions said that they were out of touch with policies in the rest of Europe. Over 90 percent of European countries allow abortion to protect the mother’s mental health and almost 80 percent allow it for economic reasons. In most European countries, abortion is legal without any restrictions up until 12 weeks and available with some restrictions, such as in the cases of rape or for the mother’s health, until 22 to 24 weeks. Five countries — France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia — have some sort of parental consent law.

Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.