Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Spanish Opposition and the New Abortion Law

There is a strong opposition to the Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy (Ley de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva y de la Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo) which has just entered into force in Spain. Since the PSOE government began the preparations, Madrid has seen two huge demonstrations against it: March 29, 2009, under the banner "No existe el Derecho a matar. Existe el Derecho a vivir" ("There is No Right to Kill. There is the Right to Life") and October 17, 2009, with the message that Cada Vida Importa"("Every Life Matters").

Allowing minors to have abortions without parental consent is a particularly criticized part. True, in general, the new law requires for at least one parent to be informed about the decision and also accompany their daughter to the clinic. However, doctors have the right to make exceptions for girls who fear that there would otherwise be a serious conflict with the family. Those who oppose the law argue that this option can be misused and point to the fact that nearly all abortions in Spain are carried out at private clinics - only 3% are made in the public healthcare system.

On a more
ideological level, the main opposition party, PP, believes that you can not talk about the right to abortions, because that is in conflict with the right to protection of life. The latter is granted by the Spanish Constitution and the party has therefore appealed to the Constitutional Court. When the former abortion law was instituted, the same court made the interpretation that the right to life (in the 15th chapter of the Constitution) also applies to the unborn fetus and can be annulled only if a continued pregnancy would pose a great risk on the mother.

As of this writing, the Constitutional Court has not yet dealt with the appeals. Meanwhile, the new law is fully applicable. A request to have it temporarily suspended during the revision has (as far as I can see) been rejected.

It should be highlighted that PP is not looking to ban abortions but considers that the previous law was flexible enough. The fact that abortions were formally illegal is not seen as an issue, since they could be carried out in such way that there was no penalty for the crime. On top of that, the party stresses that there used to be very little tension with the Catholic Church, in spite of 1.3 million abortions having been made since 1985. According to PP, this former consensus has now been broken by the Zapatero government.

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Here is an attempt to write a similar text in Spanish.

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In this earlier blog post have I tried to describe the new Spanish abortion law.

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El Mundo: Abortar en el primer trimestre no requiere desde hoy ninguna justificación

El Mundo: El Constitucional admite a trámite el recurso del PP contra la Ley del Aborto


Graeme said...

Well the problem is Erik that the demonstrations held against abortion in Madrid weren't 'just' against the reform of the existing law, the argument was that abortion was wrong but at the same time prominent PP figures participated as if they had never been in power.

On the question of the 16 year olds it's an interesting double standard. Many of the same people who criticise this aspect of the law talk about "chicas" having abortions without their parents consent at the same time as they claim that 13 year old children who commit offences should be treated in the same way as adult criminals. The age of consent and the age of adult responsibility mixed together with an extra dose of religious dogma.

What really takes the biscuit, and it's an argument I've heard here in Madrid, is the one about abortion being a "business". The question is why are so many abortions carried out privately? The answer lies largely with those who criticise the new law as has become clear this week. PP controlled regions such as Madrid and Murcia will deliberately divert women wanting abortion out of the public health system - because they do not want abortion available in the public sector. Navarra will do the same. Then, of course, they will criticise abortion because people make money out of it. Cynicism on a grand scale.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Thank you, Graeme,

I was in fact hoping that you would come in and help me here. I have a feeling that the argumentation doesn't really hold on the age
and, above all, the business issue, and your comment confirms that I am not alone to do so.

However, on the first part I'm more inclined to accept PP's official way of acting. A party which attracts the huge "anti-abortion" movement (because it is big!), will - as I see it - have the best feeling of how far you can go in policies without nurturing a back-lash.

Having grown up in a country where the issue with an abortion is that it's "a difficult decision, so therefore you should make it together and help each other" (very clearly a 'right' and certainly not a "depenalized" 'crime'), I, personally, have a very liberal view on this, but "Spain is different", and we - as foreigners - have to be open-minded.

Brett Hetherington said...

On top of the problem that Graeme mentions about the PP being involved in the Madrid protests last year, there is another fact that should be mentioned.

The protesters at this demonstration were apparently "bussed in from more than 40 different countries," according to an opinion piece in the Guardian by Jennifer Varela.

As I said in this article [] this means that not all of the supposed 1 million people who attended the protest are living in Spain.

Therefore, that protest does not accurately reflect the opinions of Spaniards.

This figure of one million at the march is also questionable. Some commentators have estimated that the crowd was closer to 60,000, though judging by the photo’s of the event this seems to me to be on the lower side of the truth.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Brett, Penedès-neighbour,

Thanks for commenting. I just realized how busy I have been lately and therefore so bad at following your activities.

As to your comment, I guess that we can assume that although some people might have been bussed in, there is still a huge number of Spaniards who maintain a very conservative view on abortions. And I really want to understand their point of view, because they very much represent "the other Spain" which I know so little about.

If I would ask people here in Vilanova about the new abortion law, I am confident that almost everyone would say that it is more logic and straight-forward, but I admittedly live in a Catalan (not typically Spanish) town where over 50% of the electorate voted for the socialists in the last general elections.

Brett Hetherington said...

Yes, of course there are many Spaniards who still have very conservative opinions about abortion (and other public issues)and I know that some of them even vote for the Socialists, which is certainly a contradiction (but as you know there are always seemingly opposed ideas that go hand-in-hand here.)

My point was that if protesters are being "bussed in from over 40 different countries" then why do this if there enough Spaniards to make the demonstration a large one?

The answer is most likely to be that the rally in Madrid was a political one, co-organised by the conservative forces in the PP and the church.

Therefore, the protest should have been seen as primarily anti-Zapatero, with the issue of abortion being conveniently used to drag people together from in and outside Spain. There is a deception at work here.

This represents what you rightly call "the other Spain" and something we could all learn more about.

Erik Wirdheim said...


You might very well be right, but, realistically, we will never find out.