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ABORTION

FOCUS: How women in Spain face barriers despite abortion being legal

When Spanish doctor Marta Vigara was 17 weeks pregnant, her waters broke and she quickly realised the prognosis for her pregnancy was "very bad".

FOCUS: How women in Spain face barriers despite abortion being legal
Geriatric doctor Marta Vigara, who could not have a therapeutic abortion at the hospital where she works, poses at her home in Madrid on February 10, 2022. - Women in Spain still face obstacles when they choose to terminate a pregnancy even though abortion was decriminalised in 1985, a situation Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government wants to change. No official statistics exist on how many objecting doctors exist in Spain. But according to the Spanish Doctors Order the "majority" of obstetrician-gynaecologists who work in the public sector are "conscientious objectors", a term coined by pacifists who refuse military service. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

A geriatric specialist working at Madrid’s Clínico San Carlos hospital, she immediately went to her colleagues in the gynaecology department to have a therapeutic abortion.

Such a procedure can be carried out when a woman’s life is in danger or the foetus has a severe abnormality.

But no doctor would do it on grounds there was still “a foetal heartbeat”, directing her to a private clinic instead.

“I arrived at the clinic bleeding, probably because of a detached placenta,” the 37-year-old told AFP at her Madrid apartment where she recounted the ordeal she lived through in December 2020.

Vigara later learnt that the entire gynaecology unit at Clinico San Carlos had declared themselves “conscientious objectors” against abortion.

Her experience illustrates how women in Spain still face obstacles when choosing to terminate a pregnancy even though abortion was decriminalised in 1985.

It’s a situation Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s leftist government wants to change.

There are no official statistics on how many doctors object to abortion in Spain.

But according to the OMC Spanish doctors’ association, “most” obstetrician-gynaecologists who work in the public sector are “conscientious objectors”, a term coined by pacifists who refuse military service.

That explains why 84.5 percent of abortions carried out in 2020 – the last available official figures – were done privately, with the state footing the bill.

In some regions, women travel hundreds of kilometres for an abortion because there is no private clinic nearby and the local hospital will not perform the procedure.

In eight of Spain’s 50 provinces, no abortion has been carried out since the procedure was decriminalised in 1985, the government says.

It is preparing a law to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals, with the issue set to be a central theme at Spain’s International Women’s Day marches on Tuesday.

Anti-abortion ‘ambulance’

Even when women can reach a private clinic, they are sometimes confronted by anti-abortion activists en route who pepper them with uncomfortable questions or prayers.

For the past decade, psychiatrist Jesus Poveda has gathered regularly with his team of “rescuers” outside the Dator private abortion clinic in Madrid to try and persuade women not to end their pregnancies.

A member (L) of “40 dias por la vida” (40 days for life), an international anti-abortion organisation that campaigns against abortion through prayer, speaks with a woman outside the Emece private hospital in Barcelona on October 28, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

They invite women to enter a van equipped with an ultrasound machine which they call an “ambulance” to show them that what they’re carrying “is a living being”, says Poveda, who teaches at Madrid’s Autonomous University.

A draft law that passed its first reading in Spain’s parliament in February will ban such protests outside abortion clinics as “harassment”.

“We will keep coming,” says Poveda, who has vowed to “get around the law” if it gets final approval, as expected.

The Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACdP) launched an ad campaign against the bill in January with posters in 33 cities reading: “Praying in front of abortion clinics is great.”

Dropping parental consent

Sanchez’s government also wants to modify the law so minors of 16 and 17 can terminate a pregnancy without their parents’ consent, as is the case in Britain and France.

These youngsters can decide for themselves whether to “undergo a life or death operation, yet parental consent is required to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy,” Equality Minister Irene Montero said last month.

Staunchly Catholic Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 in cases of rape, if a foetus is malformed or if a birth poses a serious physical or psychological risk to the mother.

The scope of the law was broadened in 2010 by the previous socialist government to allow abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

But in 2015, a conservative Popular Party government tried to roll back the changes but had to back down in the face of strong public opposition.

Instead, it introduced the parental consent requirement for minors which exists in most European nations.

Vigara is hoping “things will change”.

“When they send you away (to a private clinic), you feel a bit stigmatised as if you’re doing something wrong. I felt very guilty and very miserable.”

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E-SCOOTERS

Is it legal for e-scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

They're increasingly popular across Spanish towns and cities, but is it legal for electric scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

Is it legal for e-scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

If you live in Spain, you’ll have seen the rapidly increasing popularity – and speed – of electric scooters. Often, users of electric scooters don’t ride in the road with cars and mopeds, but on the pavement with pedestrians or in bike lines.

Some electric scooters can reach speeds of up to 30km/h and collisions between scooter riders and pedestrians is an increasingly common occurrence in Spain.

In Barcelona, a recent survey reported that 60 percent of scooter riders in the city admitted speeding.

But what’s the law? Can electric scooters legally ride on the pavement? What happens if they do, and what happens if they have an accident?

The law

Simply put: no. According to the Royal Decree 970/2020, which entered into force on January 2nd, 2021, you can’t ride an electric scooter on the pavement. 

As electric scooters are a relatively new phenomenon, in the first couple of years of the craze managed to bypass legislation, but the government eventually caught up and included the electric scooters as part of its ‘Personal Mobility Vehicle’ regulations.

According to the Royal Decree 970/2020, it is forbidden to ride an electric scooter on the pavement, on crossings, highways, intercity roads or tunnels in urban areas.

The decree also states the maximum speed capacity of an electric scooter must be 25 km/h, although it is possible to tinker with the scooter to increase the top speed, something fairly common in Spain. If scooters exceed 25km/h, they are considered motor vehicles and they must comply with the rules of the road.

The exception

The law has just one exception. In pedestrian areas where vehicles can also enter with restrictions – known as Zonas Peatonales Compartidas in Spain – you can drive an electric scooter if you ride at a maximum speed of 10 km/h.

Fines

If you are caught riding an electric scooter on the pavement in Spain you are, in theory, liable to a €200 fine. Whether or not it will be enforced is a different story and depends where in Spain you are (more on that below) and many municipalities offer a 50 percent discount on the fine if you pay it promptly.

However, the fines can add up for more serious offences on scooters. Driving the scooter under the influence of alcohol or drugs can earn you a fine of between €500 and €1,000.

If you use your mobile phone as you’re riding a scooter, you could be fined €200. If you give someone a life, and there’s two of you on the scooter (as is often the case in Spain) you’re liable to a €100 fine and riding an electric scooter at night without lights or reflective clothing can also cost €200.

Fines and punishments for improper scooter use is always handled by the Policía Local, not Policía Nacional or Guardia Civil.

Regional enforcement

That’s the law. In reality however, enforcement is, like many things in Spain, very regional and depends on where you are.

Based on the decree 970/2020, each municipality has its own ordinances that road users must comply with.

Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are the Spanish cities where electric scooters are most popular, and some of its particular regulations are below. 

Madrid

  • Minimum age: 15 years.
  • Allowed on the road, bike lanes, streets in which the maximum speed is 30km/h.
  • Rental scooters must be insured and used with a helmet.

Barcelona

  • Minimum age: 16 years.
  • Allowed on bike paths that cross the pavement and in 30km/h zones.
  • Parking is allowed in certain areas.

Valencia

  • Minimum age: 16 years.
  • Banned on all pavements except on shared pedestrian streets at 10 km/h. Allowed by road by cycle roads, one-way roads and by the road of streets of 30 zones at a maximum speed of 30 km/h.

Crackdown

Despite the ambiguity of the law between places and the confusion about the rules, some parts of Spain are already cracking down on scooter use, and the results suggest it is a problem across the country.

In just one week in Barcelona in 2021, over 1000 fines were given out to scooter riders and thousands of complaints received.

In Jaén last year, local police began a crackdown on improper electric scooter use that seized over 150 in the space of two weeks. 

In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, policed handed out 82 fines in just 15 days of enforcement. In the same period, 60 electric scooters were confiscated. 

In Cartagena, Murcia, local media has reported that one in three fines for electric scooter users is for driving in pedestrian areas.

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