Spanish government accused of returning to Franco era on abortion

Reform to include outlawing of abortion in cases of foetus malformation

The Spanish government is being accused of turning back the clock to the repressive era of the Franco dictatorship as it prepares to reform the country’s abortion law.

The new Bill has not yet been presented to Congress. However, justice minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón has already announced that the reform will include the outlawing of abortion in the case of foetus malformation.

“I don’t understand why the foetus should be unprotected, allowing it to be aborted, just because it suffers some kind of disability or malformation,” the minister has said.

The current law, dating from 2010, allows abortion for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and beyond 14 weeks in certain cases, such as when the health of the mother or foetus is at risk.


Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court is in the process of examining an appeal by the governing Partido Popular (PP) against the current law.

Pro-choice and women’s groups have spoken against the government reform plans. Ana María Pérez of the Federation of Separated and Divorced Women (FAMSD) has said the government’s stance is “terrible, it’s a return to the seventies”. The opposition Socialists, who introduced the 2010 legislation, have warned the anticipated change would signal a return to “Franco’s Spain” in abortion practices.

Congress, where the conservative PP has a majority, was last night expected to reject a Socialist motion to delay the reform until after the Constitutional Court’s ruling. It also called for current abortion terms to be respected.

About 110,000 abortions take place each year in Spain, of which only 3,500 are due to foetal malformation.

Those who want to maintain the current legislation warn that these kinds of pregnancies are often traumatic for the mother and the child may stand little chance of surviving long after birth.

Politics and red tape
The new law is expected to be stricter overall, with speculation it will also require public sector doctors, rather than professionals at private clinics, to sign off on abortions. Pro-choice groups say this would lead to senior doctors being appointed for political motives and increase red tape.

Until Spain’s reform of 1985, 30,000 women per year went abroad for terminations, most of them to the UK. Others resorted to procedures in illegal clinics in Spain. Critics say the mooted reform will see that phenomenon return.

“Women from your social and economic background will be able to travel to 20 of the 27 European countries that have a law like ours [at the moment], to have an abortion,” said socialist Elena Valenciano, during a recent parliamentary exchange with the justice minister. “And the others, that you don’t know about, will also have abortions, but they will do so in much tougher conditions because they don’t have money.”

The number of Spaniards who approve of abortion, under certain circumstances, has risen from 54 to 87 per cent since 1976.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain