Abortion Law in Spain: The Return of Francoism

The voluntary interruption of a pregnancy is a right that had for a long time been denied to women in Spain. With the exception of a short period during the second Spanish republic, abortion represented a crime until the year 2010. Now abortion is to be criminalised once again.

In 1985 abortion was exempted from punishment in case of three indications with different terms respectively. But only the law which is in force today, dating from the year 2010, legalised voluntary abortion up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy and provided different and longer terms for certain indications concerning the health of either the mother or the foetus. Besides that, this law initiated by the government of the PSOE recognizes the right of women between 16 and 18 years of age to have an abortion without their parents’ consent. Even though the regulation of the year 2010 is still regarded as insufficient by the women’s movement, it met with approval among the wide majority of the population.
The Partido Popular appealed to the constitutional court over this regulation, a case which has not been decided up to now. The conference of Spanish bishops, the pro-lifers’ movement of Pro-Vida and several other organisations such as Foro español de la familia were strictly opposed to this law, advocating a so-called “zero-tolerance with regard to abortion” (aborto cero). One consequence of the abortion law of 2010 had been that there was not only no rise in the number of abortions but that, compared to 2011, the number of abortions decreased in 2012.
In their election programme, on the grounds of which they won the parliamentary elections of 2012, the Partido Popular declared their will to a change of the abortion law, without, however, going into details. Although the change of the law had already been announced at the beginning of the government led by President Rajoy, Minister of Justice Gallardón waited until the end of the first half of the legislative period, to set it on track. The draft of the new law criminalizes abortion and provides for prison sentences and prohibitions to exercise their professions for the personnel carrying out abortions. In this scenario the women are always victims and subjected to the supervision of doctors, psychologists, judges and parents who take care that they “make the right decisions” with regard to their bodies, a view which stigmatizes and incapacitates them.
According to the law named “Gallardón Law” (Ley Gallardón) after the present Minister of Justice, abortion is to be made legal only under two circumstances: When there is great danger to the life or the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, under the precondition that the abortion takes place within the first 22 weeks of a pregnancy and when there is an expertise available of two independent doctors. These doctors are not allowed to work at the same clinic in which the abortion is to be carried out. Also in case of rape, abortion is not illegal, under the condition that it is carried out in the first twelve weeks of a pregnancy. With both these indications women are denied the right to decide over their own bodies but are treated like minors. To make their decisions, a “reflection period” of seven days is conceded to them, after they have received “information and counselling”. This regulation of abortion, which comes very close to a zero-tolerance, is flanked by criminalizing abortion by means of procedures and terms, which make abortions impossible for minors or by denying the right on grounds of conscience, which applies not only for the doctors but also for the entire hospital staff involved in carrying out the abortion.
The harshness of the regulation has frequently been criticized, not only by the political and social Left in Spain and abroad and by the medical professional associations but also by the right wing and even within the Partido Popular itself, where in inner-party disputes all critics are to be silenced. In the European Parliament, GUE/NGL has initiated a declaration against this regulation, which was signed by 295 MEPs, while in Spain the parties of PSOE, IU, BNG, Amaiur and Nafarroa-Bai have signed a joint agreement with 200 women’s rights organisations rejecting the reform of the abortion law.
In case this regulation is adopted, the consequences would be disastrous for the rights of women. It is obvious that that would be a relapse into the times of the dictatorship, both with regard to the civil liberties as well as the respect of the right to health. While we do not forget that before the abortion law currently in force, about 113,000 abortions were registered in the year 2010, we see that in a situation so repressive an illegal abortion will often become the only way-out. This way-out is marked by the threat to the lives of working class women who cannot afford to travel to other countries to have an abortion carried out.
The Partido Popular in general and their minister, Gallardón, in particular use abortion to avoid losing support among the electorate as a consequence of their policies against the rights of the majority of society and the impoverishment of the population. In order to forego a split of the right wing and to distract people from the current political debate over existing socio-economic problems and serious cases of corruption within both the PP and the monarchy, the minister triggered an ultra-conservative offensive. By that, he tries to secure the loyalty of a part of the electorate and the support of the church, which again claims that space in the political debate conceded to it some time ago by Franco and from which we have not managed to oust it even thirty years after the end of the dictatorship and in spite of the “ideological neutrality” of the Spanish state.
Apart from the legal dispute, the political topicality with a focus on the next election and, most of all, the false Christian morality dominating the debate and prevailing in the Spanish Right: This is the moment to position the issue on the axis which runs between patriarchy, domination and misogyny on the one, self-determination over one’s own body and recognition of women as free and responsible individuals on the other hand. The denial of the right of abortion is again used as an element of the symbolic domination over our liberty, as a means to castrate and punish our sexuality, as a sign that a woman is regarded as an irresponsible individual, who is a victim and incapacitated. Criminalising abortion means renewed stigmatisation and reduces and injures our right to ourselves decide over our bodies and our lives.