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Intolerably retrograde

Plans to reform abortion, even in the case of fetal malformation, have distinct Francoist echoes

No one from the government or the party which holds power has expressed solid arguments for the need to reform the current legislation on abortion. This is because there are none. Since July 2010 the law recognizes the right of women to decide freely on maternity within a general limit of 14 weeks of gestation. It is a law that fits in with the existing legislation in neighboring countries, has been applied without causing any social problems, and nor has it led to a big increase in the number of abortions — contrary to the auguries of those who opposed it. It is also supported by a majority of Spaniards, according to opinion polls. It seems clear, then, that the motivation behind the Popular Party’s reform plans are of the kind the conservative grouping would rather keep concealed, driven by the blackmail exercised on the government in this matter by the Catholic Church, with Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela leading the way.

Despite the contradictory and vague explanations given by government officials so far, the reform’s backers are threatening to introduce a law which would be more restrictive than that of 1985, when abortion was first legalized in Spain in certain cases. Such a move does not respond to any juridical necessity. The old law was ruled on by the Constitutional Court before coming into effect, and was modified accordingly. The Socialist reform has not yet been ruled upon, meaning that the pompous disquisitions on the rights and legal guarantees of women and the unborn have no greater foundation than the desire to twist reality or the flagrant attempt to please the bishops and the ultra-catholic wing of the ruling party.

They may claim that the reform responds to a popular clamor for change, but the government and the PP know that this is a lie. The Popular Party won the 2011 general election with a clear mandate to steer Spain out of the crisis, reduce unemployment and bring an end to the Socialist administration’s wayward economic policies. They were not elected to change laws which only bother a small minority of extremists, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. To pacify this influential minority within the PP, the abortion reform that is produced will be a clearly retrograde step which will lead to injustice and a lack of safeguards for women.

Research by the World Health Organization shows that more restrictive laws do not reduce the number of terminations, but rather raise those risks faced by women who seek clandestine procedures without proper medical attention. Such laws do condemn poor women to go through with unwanted pregnancies, while those with greater economic means evade the restrictions by simply traveling to another country.

This reform, as yet unspecified, threatens to ignore scientific evidence on the early embryo, which is not independently viable; rejects an existing law which offers greater juridical safeguards to the embryo than the 1985 legislation; and represents an attack on women’s freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. The possibility that the bill will seek to limit severely abortions in cases of fetal malformations is a moral aberration which has been consistently decried as such by doctors whose professional lives have been consumed by the treatment of these conditions.

It is important to remember that the current abortion law protects women’s liberty, but does not force anybody to terminate a pregnancy. To argue that there is a need to thus strengthen the right to parenthood is to insult people’s intelligence. Equally insulting is the notion that the reform is required to defend women from the “structural violence” of a society which, according to some obscurantist idea, herds them toward the operating theater to end their pregnancies. Structural violence is that which will once again be seen in Spain if we return to a law that will obligate women to expose themselves to practices reminiscent of the heavy days of Francoism and which our legislators were able to resolve at the dawn of democracy in this country.

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