Spanish court to rule on abortion law after 13 years

Top tribunal is expected to uphold reform easing access to abortion

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the Popular Party leader, opposes a more recent change to Spanish abortion law which means that girls aged 16-17 do not need parental consent. Photograph: Lavandeira Jr/EPA

Spain’s top court has begun reviewing an appeal made more than a decade ago against a reform making it easier for women to get an abortion.

The constitutional court is considering complaints filed in 2010 by the conservative Popular Party (PP) against legislation approved by the then Socialist government.

The reform, which came into effect that year, allowed free access to abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, increasing to 22 weeks if there were serious risks to the health of the mother or baby. Until then, under a 1985 law, terminations had only been legally available in the case of rape, if the woman’s health was at risk or if the foetus was malformed.

In addition, the 2010 legislation allowed girls aged 16 and 17 to have abortions as long as they informed their parents or legal guardians.

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Drawn up by the administration of then prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the law faced the opposition of the PP, which filed eight objections before the constitutional court in a bid to overturn it.

In filing its appeal, the Popular Party had the support of the Catholic Church

On presenting the appeal, Federico Trillo of the PP described the change allowing abortion up to the first 14 weeks of pregnancy as “contrary to the right to life and how the constitutional court has always interpreted [this right]”.

In filing its appeal, the PP had the support of the Catholic Church. Senior church figures were often seen taking part in demonstrations organised by the conservatives against the Socialists’ abortion reform.

However, the slow pace of the Spanish justice system, along with entrenched divisions over the issue within the constitutional court itself, have meant that the appeal has been languishing for 13 years without being resolved.

With new magistrates recently appointed to the constitutional court, it has made this issue a priority. It is widely expected to reject the main points of the appeal, thus leaving the law mainly untouched.

With public opinion broadly supporting the 2010 law, the PP has found itself in an uncomfortable position. More than 70 per cent of Spaniards are in favour of abortion in “all or most cases”, according to an Ipsos poll carried out last year. Now seeing the issue as an electoral liability, the conservatives have distanced themselves from their own legal appeal.

On winning a parliamentary majority in 2011, the PP, led by Mariano Rajoy, pledged to reverse the Socialists’ law. However, it did not do so, instead making only minor changes.

The party’s current leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo recently appeared to accept the main thrust of the 2010 law. “In Europe, all countries have abortion laws with term limits,” he said. “You can argue over whether it’s 12, 14 or 16 weeks.”

However, he added that his party opposes a more recent change approved by congress which means that girls aged 16-17 do not need parental consent.

“The PP does not want to get into this debate because of pure political calculation,” noted Ignacio Escolar, editor of the leftist news site elDiario.es. “It knows that [abortion] divides its own voters while mobilising the left.”

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

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