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Teresa Lamas – WNN Justice commentary

Women rally for reproductive rights in Spain

Women rally on the streets of Madrid, Spain in support of reproductive rights Saturday February 1, 2014. Image: Watchinga

(WNN) Madrid, SPAIN, WESTERN EUROPE: The new abortion bill proposal called the ‘Bill on the Organic Law for the Protection of the Life of the Unborn and the Rights of the Pregnant Woman’, approved by the Council of Ministers last December in Spain, eliminates the right of women to freely choose to have an abortion until the 14th week of pregnancy. Spain’s legislative discussions have proposed that the medical procedure will now only be allowed under two circumstances: rape under circumstances in pregnancy up to the 12th week, or only if there is a serious mental or psychological risk for the mother’s health, which allows abortion up the 22nd week of pregnancy.

This represents the most restrictive approach for reproductive rights in Spanish democracy. The legislative announcement has generated strong protests and demonstrations across the country, especially among those who consider this proposed bill to be a new form of  ‘aggression’ to women’s rights which must not be tolerated.

To answer the question of risks to the mother’s heath on abortion: a women needs to present reports by two different doctors stating that there is a “durable and serious” threat to her health. This raises the possibility of biased interpretations and promotes delays which may result in a pregnancy that may exceed the abortion time limit. It also gives doctors the responsibility of having the last word in deciding whether a woman can, or cannot, stop her pregnancy.

After going through the process to meet with doctors a women will then have to meet with her social worker, who will provide her with information about the procedure as she is given alternatives to abortion. The meeting with a social worker will also include information on maternity benefits and risks of birth intervention.

Finally, she will be forced to ‘reflect’ for 7 days before having the abortion.

These recent changes in Spanish law are significant in light of the 2008 Council of Europe Resolution #1607, which stresses that “the lack of local health care facilities, the lack of doctors willing to carry out abortions, the repeated medical consultations required, the time allowed for changing one’s mind and the waiting time for the abortion all have the potential to make access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services more difficult, or even impossible in practice.”

Feminist and progressive groups point out that the substantive question covers whether a women will be allowed to make her own decisions about her sexuality, body and reproductive health.

As gender and abortion specialist Justa Montero recently declared: “The Cabinet has responded to what they were asked by the reactionary hierarchy and most patriarchal, fundamentalist and conservative sectors of society, who care little for women’s rights. Moreover, they just think of the pregnant woman as an incubator, therefore respecting the life of the woman to the extent that is functional to the life of the foetus.”

One of the major controversies of the proposed Bill is that it eliminates the possibility of abortion if there are deformities in the foetus.  In such cases abortions are only allowed under the condition that the deformities “are deformities incompatible with life,” which limits women’s access to abortion even more than the 1985 Spanish law.

Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, Spain’s Minister of Justice and mastermind of the Bill, declared that it would be “ethically inconceivable” to provide an unborn baby with deformities reduced protection. Another set-back is that women under 18 years-of-age now will need parental consent in order to have an abortion.  And if there is conflict between the parties it will be a courtroom judge who will assess the situation and decide whose opinion will prevail.

Gallardón has stated that women in any case will be punished if they get an abortion outside of what the Bill stipulates. Conversely, doctors will be the ones criminalized, facing up to three years in jail if they oversee or medically perform an abortion outside the Law.

Many practitioners, however, have already declared they will oppose the proposed Bill. One of them is the gynaecologist Jose Luis Carbonell who openly declared: “When a law is clearly unfair and goes against society’s best interest, the only thing we can do is what we did in times of dictatorship: to break it.”

Psychiatrists have also already started to contest the Bill claiming that they do not want to be abortion inquisitors if a women is not mentally ill. It should not be our decision to choose whether a women can have an abortion or not, they convey. As women balance the ‘right to choose’ under the process of legal abortion available through public health clinics in Spain in contrast to denials proposed under new legislation, numerous physicians throughout Spain may become conscientious objectors speaking out against the legislation.

In the words of Justa Montero: “This new bill makes it easier for doctors and health workers to refuse to conduct an abortion. Actually, the law is protecting more the right to conscientious objection of medical personnel than the right of women to be upheld. It is a new way to condemn and criminalize abortion.”

But where are the women who hope to make the final decision?, ask local advocates.

As many comparative studies have demonstrated, hindering access to abortion does not reduce its practice. In contrast it is likely to hinder the protection of women’s health and the proliferation of ‘abortion tourism‘, a phenomenon that brings with it even more social inequalities.

Contesting what activists call “this reactionary Bill” the social, political and legal ramifications may cause a rise in ideological bias against women. Rewording the 2010 “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of the Pregnancy” Law with new words may be exposing the ramifications of a new bias as the new title for the Law is now: “Protection Act of the Life of the Conceived and the Rights of Pregnant Women.”

Even jurists doubt the legality of the Law under Spanish Constitutional Court, as well as the European Human Rights Court. This may be true especially since neither recognizes the embryo as a person.

We can clearly see the hand of Catholic Church organizations pulling the strings behind this new law, which can only be understood as an attempt to please the most conservative supporters of the current Spanish party now in power.

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Based in Madrid, Spain freelance journalist Teresa Lamas specializes in gender, social justice and international cooperation in development. Working to cover vital stories on human rights Lamas has also spent time in Nigeria and Palestine. Her goal is to chronicle women’s experiences, struggles and achievements as women find the door to social justice worldwide.

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