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HEALTH

Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms

A controversial anti-abortion proposal by the far-right Vox party has sparked heated debate in a key election year for Spain, with its left-wing government raising the alarm about extremist agendas.

Ideological battle over abortion as Spain vote looms
The leader in Castilla y Leon of far-right party Vox, Juan Garcia Gallardo. Photo: CESAR MANSO / AFP

Last week, a Vox official in the northern region of Castilla y León, which is co-run by the right and far right, said doctors would have to offer women seeking an abortion the option of hearing the heartbeat of the foetus.

The measure is similar to that adopted last year by the far-right government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which requires pregnant women to listen to the foetus’ “vital functions’ before having an abortion.

The aim was “to promote childbirth and support families”, said the region’s deputy head Juan Garcia-Gallardo, a member of Vox which, like other parties of its ilk, has put a lot of focus on this ideologically charged issue.

READ ALSO: Spain’s Castilla y León to introduce measures to prevent abortions

Spain, a European leader when it comes to women’s rights, decriminalised abortion in 1985 and in 2010 it passed a law that allows women to opt freely for abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in most cases.

A government bill which aims to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals is currently making its way through parliament.

‘Threat is very real’

Vox in 2022 entered a regional government for the first time since it was founded in 2013 when it became the junior partner in a coalition with the conservative Popular Party (PP) in Castilla y León.

The experiment in the region close to Madrid is being closely watched: polls suggest the PP would win a general election expected the end of the year but would need the support of Vox to govern.

Before that, Spain will vote in May in regional and local elections.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez used his address at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday to warn of the threat posed by the far-right, in what was seen as a reference to Castilla y León.

“We have to prevent these political forces from reaching the institutions… because the threat is very real, especially in those countries where far-right forces have the support of mainstream conservative parties,” he said.

He accused Moscow of using far-right parties to sow division in Europe, adding: “We will fight them with the same determination and conviction that the Ukrainians are fighting Russian forces.”

Sánchez’s executive has sent two notices to the regional government of Castilla y León reminding it that it does not have the authority to alter the abortion law.

READ ALSO: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

‘Drive a wedge’

Meanwhile, the main opposition PP has tried to distance itself from the controversy. It said the measure, which was first put forward by Garcia-Gallardo, will never come into force.

During a TV interview on Tuesday, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo said: “No woman who wants to voluntarily interrupt her pregnancy according to the law will be coerced anywhere where the PP governs.”

Feijóo, who has pushed the PP to the centre since becoming leader of the party in April, did not hide his discomfort with Vox, which he said was “clearly mistaken”.

He said the far-right party had sparked a controversy that “clearly” benefitted Sánchez’s government, which had “a lot of problems”.

The abortion row has overshadowed other disputes troubling the government. They include a row sparked by a flagship law against sexual violence that toughened penalties for rape but eased sentences for other sexual crimes. This has set some convicts free after their jail terms were reduced.

Antonio Barroso, of political consultancy Teneo, said Vox was “trying to drive a wedge within the PP by pushing for initiatives that pull the party away from the centre”.

Controversies over issues like abortion could help Sánchez “to mobilise the left-wing electorate by capitalising on their potential fears of a PP-Vox government”, he added in a research note.

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HEALTH

Shortage of medicines in Spanish pharmacies grows by 150 percent

Spanish pharmacies are increasingly struggling to get the proper supply of certain medicines such as paediatric amoxicillin and some anti-diabetic drugs.

Shortage of medicines in Spanish pharmacies grows by 150 percent

In 2022 Spanish pharmacies experienced supply problems with 403 medicines, according to Spain’s General Council of Pharmaceutical Colleges (CGCOF).

Though this figure represents just 5 percent of the total 20,000 medicines sold in Spain, it is an increase of 150 percent compared to 2021 and represents what experts have deemed a “worrying” trend that is rising after two years of decline. The shortages last an average of four or five weeks.

This was the warning made by the CGCOF based on its data on the supply of medicines (CisMED), which is focused on ‘supply alert’ notices provided by almost 10,000 of the 22,000 pharmacies across Spain.

READ ALSO – Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Spain?

On average in 2022, more than 70 medicines were identified as suffering from shortages per week. The weekly average for 2021 was 28 incidents and in 2020 it was 41.

Of these shortages, experts say they are especially pronounced in medicines for the nervous system and cardiovascular groups, and “very significantly” pronounced with paediatric amoxicillin and some anti-diabetic drugs.

Medicines for the nervous system made up around 20 percent of the incidents, followed by cardiovascular therapeutics, with 19 percent, digestive 14 percent, and respiratory 13 percent.

READ ALSO: Pharmacies in Spain will be able to sell medical marijuana by the end of 2022

Call for calm

Stark as this statistic may seem out of context, however, it does not suggest that shelves in Spanish pharmacies are bare nor that Spaniards are being turned away by out-of-stock pharmacists.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, President of the CGCOF, Jesús Aguilar, soothed fears by drawing distinctions between different types of shortages, one, he said, was “when there is none for anyone,” and the other a lack of supply “when there is none today but there will be tomorrow, or when there is none here but there is there”. 

Spain, he said, was suffering the second, adding that pharmacists can always replace or find alternative medicines. “Citizens have to be calm. It’s under control. We have the problem when it comes to looking for the medicine, not the citizens,” he added.

Causes

The causes of the shortages of certain medicines in Spain are various, but many stem from a combination of the centralised nature of production, meaning some medicines are produced only in certain parts of the world or even single factories, and a shortage of raw materials and packaging from Asian countries where production has been slow to recover from the pandemic shutdown, as well as the low price of medicines in Spain.

The issue is “a multifactorial problem that comes from problems with the increasingly globalised nature of drug manufacturing,” Aguilar said. “This supply problem has been affecting Spain for years, as well as the rest of Europe and the world.”

Farmahelp

To try and ease the supply shortages, the CGCOF has launched a new campaign to expand ‘Farmahelp’, a collaborative network of pharmacies that already has almost 6000 participating branches.

The Farmahelp app allows patients to find medicines in nearby pharmacies when they are unavailable and connects the pharmacy branches so they can update one another about the availability of medicines.

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