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Return to the past

The government bows to the most retrograde conservative circles in its abortion reform

The abortion reform bill presented to the Cabinet on Friday by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón seeks to entirely eliminate the 2010 law that allows women to abort if they choose to do so during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. In fact, the proposed legislation is even stricter than the 1985 law, which the Socialist government replaced just three years ago. Under this counter-reform, which will prosper thanks to the Popular Party (PP) parliamentary majority, women in Spain will find themselves in an exceptional situation, which is virtually unparalleled in Europe due to the government’s unacceptable degree of submission to the most retrograde sectors of the Catholic Church. The reform removes the right to choose altogether. Women will only be permitted to terminate a pregnancy in two instances: rape (up to 12 weeks) and in a situation of serious risk to the mother’s health, either physical or psychological (up to 22 weeks), something which two specialists, unconnected to the clinic where the procedure is to be carried out, must certify.

Unlike under the 1985 law, serious fetal malformation will not be considered a justification. The PP’s reform only allows for the possibility of an abortion where the fetus has an abnormality that means it will not live, and which also represents a serious risk to the mother’s psychological health. The right to life on the part of the nasciturus is thus placed ahead not only of the mother’s freedom to choose, but also ahead of her mental health, as she will only be able to end her pregnancy in a scenario whereby the baby is bound to die in any case.

This restriction is not only cruel for the woman concerned, but also for the unborn child, which will therefore be condemned to a life that in many cases will be nothing more than suffering. The justice minister’s position is backed up by a twisted interpretation of the UN convention on disability, in which the only demand in this respect is that there are no inequalities in the treatment — different termination time limits, for example — between a fetus with abnormalities and one without.

Under such a reform, Spain has returned to an era we thought we had left behind. This bill consecrates an authoritarian system of regulation that places women in the position of minors, whose capacity to decide has been subordinated to third parties who will make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

With this reform, the government is confusing private morality and public morality. It is giving the state the power to decide in which cases a woman may abort according to certain religious beliefs that belong to the private sphere and are not even held by a majority of the population. In support of the beliefs of a minority, the state is set to equip itself with the power to oblige all women who do not meet strict criteria to give birth, including many who do not even share these beliefs. The 2010 law does not force anyone to have an abortion. With the new rules, many women will be obliged to see through unwanted pregnancies. In a plural society, this kind of imposition is an attack on the culture of democracy. And even though the new law will not impose penal sanctions on women who break it, physicians who do so will be punished.

It is an unnecessary reform, which is both hypocritical and socially divisive: it is obvious that women with financial means who wish to abort — including many Catholics — will do so in other countries, while poorer women will face a risky clandestine procedure, just as they did in the dark days of Spain’s past.

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