What you need to know about Spain’s plan to change its abortion laws

What you need to know about Spain’s plan to change its abortion laws
Anti-abortion supporters take part in a march in Madrid in 2014. In Spain women have the right to abortions up to the 14th week of their pregnancy, but many doctors across the country refuse to perform the procedure. Photo by DANI POZO / AFP
In Spain women can get an abortion for free in all public hospitals up until 14 weeks, no questions asked. But the reality is that many doctors refuse to perform them. The Spanish government is revising its laws to make sure it is enforced across the country.

Under the current legislation introduced by the previous Socialist government in 2010, women in Spain have the right to abortions up to the 14th week of their pregnancy, which is standard in much of Europe.

They also have the legal right to abort up to the 22nd week of pregnancy in cases where the mother’s health is at risk or the foetus has serious deformities.

‘Conscientious objectors’

However, in practice this law translates into a very different reality.  

Many doctors across Spain refuse to practice abortions, calling themselves “conscientious objectors”.

So many doctors deny the procedure across the country, that in five out of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, no public hospitals offer abortions, according to data from the Health Ministry

This causes stark regional inequalities, forcing thousands of women to either travel to another part of the country, or pay for one in a private clinic, despite the 2010 law stating that “all women should benefit from equal access to abortion regardless of where they reside”.

According to the data, the provinces of Teruel, Ávila, Palencia, Segovia, Zamora, Cuenca, Toledo and Cáceres have not performed a single abortion in the past 30 years.

And, another even more revealing statistic: in 2019, 85 per cent of abortions took place in private clinics.

The map below shows the provinces that never perform abortions in red, the ones where it has varied over the years in orange, and the ones where they have always been available in green.

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Law reform

The minister of equality, Irene Montero, has proposed a reform of the current law that would limit doctors being able to refuse the procedure.

“Conscientious objection cannot be an obstacle for women to exercise their right to terminate a pregnancy,” Montero said in a tweet. “We must reform the law to regulate it and make sure abortion is guaranteed in the public health system.”

Montero said the draft law would be ready in December after a consultation process.

However, others have said doctors should not be forced to perform abortions.

The president of Madrid’s regional government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, said she would not force “any doctor in Madrid’s public health system to practice an abortion against their will” because doctors study medicine “to save lives and not to do the opposite”.

Conservatism

The situation shows abortion remains a dividing issue in Spain, where a large part of the conservative population is still opposed to a law that was introduced over a decade ago.

The former conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had promised to tighten Spain’s abortion law before he came into power in 2011.

However he was forced to drop the plans in 2014 due to disagreement within his Popular Party (PP). This angered many Catholic and other pro-life groups.

The reform would have ended women’s rights to freely terminate their pregnancies up until the 14th weeks. 

In 2015 Rajoy’s government passed another reform requiring girls aged 16 and 17 to get their parents’ consent if they wished to terminate a pregnancy. But the measure failed to pacify pro-life campaigners.

Montero also announced plans to repeal the 2015 reform as part of the draft law.


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