abortion reform

Abortion reform will give medical staff right to conscientiously object

Previously, only doctors directly involved in termination procedure could opt out Pro-life gynecologists may choose to withhold ultrasound scan information from women who are pregnant

The government’s controversial reform to the Abortion Law, which the Cabinet approved last Friday, will effectively remove the right of women to abort in any instance other than serious risk to the mother’s health, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. The main opposition Socialist Party has attacked the reform, arguing that it violates a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby or not.

Some sectors of the medical profession, though, have welcomed the new legislation, which will now be taken to Congress for debate. “The current [2010] law consolidated a regime of oppression against individual liberties,” said Esteban Rodríguez of the association Gynecologists for the Right to Decide. Unlike under the previous legislation introduced by the Socialists, every member of the medical profession will have the right to conscientiously object to involvement in an abortion. Previously, this was only possible for those “directly involved” — the doctor who was to perform the procedure, the midwife and the anesthetist.

Some medical professionals had sought this option in the courts, but the effort did not prosper. In April of this year, the Andalusia regional High Court issued a ruling prohibiting primary healthcare workers from objecting to abortion treatment. Rodríguez noted that the new law even opens the door to gynecologists refusing to give patients the results of an ultrasound scan. “When a doctor informs someone of a malformation he is revealing the genetic intimacy of a human being. And not to do it any good,” he said.

No penal responsibility

On the other hand, while the new draft legislation rules out any form of penal or administrative punishment for a woman aborting illegally, medical professionals who perform the procedure could face up to three years in prison. “For a woman to be considered the author of a crime the law has to expressly include it. If it does not, even if an abortion is illegal, the woman is exempt from penal responsibility,” said Joaquim Bosch, a spokesman for Judges for Democracy. Under the original 1985 law, which legalized abortion in Spain in some cases, a woman could face six months to a year in prison, although in reality nobody has ever been jailed for terminating a pregnancy.

The new law requires the signature of two doctors on the authorization for a woman to abort due to health risk, physical or psychological: previously, one was sufficient.

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