Bursting the Bubble

Spanish abortion law in the political pendulum

18 January 2014 | by

Spanish politics could be compared with a pendulum, moving left and right, left and right, depending on the color of the political party governing. Long ago, a professor explained me that the doing-and-undoing dynamic, the lack of political consensus and the short-term goals guided by purely electoral interests or pressure from specific groups, inevitably leads to a waste of time and resources. She was speaking about Foreign Policy, but she forgot to mention the risk of winning and losing social rights on the way.

Below, you can see the evolution of the infamous abortion legislation that is currently generating controversy both in Spain and at the EU level. This is just one of the many examples of the ‘pendulum effect’ of Spanish politics.

Silvia 1

Organic Law 9/1985, adopted on July 5, 1985 under PM Felipe Gonzalez’ socialist government (1982-1996) and kept during PM Aznar’s conservative legislature (1996-2004)

Abortion is legal in the cases of:

1. Serious risk to the physical or psychical health of the pregnant woman (at any time, with a medical report certifying compliance with this condition)

2. Violation (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with no need to report the crime)

3. Malformations or physical/mental defects in the fetus (in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy)

The legal gap in this law was the first condition. Many women aborted arguing risks for their mental health, especially in private clinics where finding a medical certification was easier.  The fact that this scenario did not establish time, providing room for abortions in late pregnancies.

Although the Popular Party appealed against the abortion law in the Constitutional Court, the conservative government did not apply any changes during the two legislatures of Aznar.

Silvia 2Organic Law 2 /2010, adopted on March 3, 2010 under PM Zapatero’ socialist government (2004-2011)

This law legalized abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy . Thereby, abortion became a women’s right and they were free to decide on the termination of their pregnancy without the intervention of third parties.

They could abort until week 22 of pregnancy only in cases of «serious risk to the life or health of the mother or fetus “, and after that if “the fetus has anomalies that are incompatible with life” or if “the fetus has an extremely serious and incurable disease”.

Probably one of the most controversial aspects of this law was that it allowed young women between 16 and 17 to abort with, or without the consent of their parents.

Silvia 3“Draft Organic Law on the Protection of the life of the unborn and the rights of the pregnant woman”, under PM Rajoy’ conservative government (2011-)

When the Organic Law 2/2010 was approved, the Popular Party appealed against it in the Constitutional Court and proposed to substitute it with the previous Organic Law 9/1985. The current Justice Minister, Mr. Gallardón (at that time in the opposition) referred to it as “structural violence” and as  legislation that did not “protect the right to motherhood”. After winning the elections with absolute majority, the Popular Party gave a more radical twirl to the reform. The new law proposal, the most restrictive in Spanish democracy, states that abortion is only legal in two instances:

1. Serious risk to the physical or psychical health of the pregnant woman (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with a medical report from two different doctors certifying compliance with these conditions)

2. Violation (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, if the crime has been reported)

The case of fetal malformations is not considered a valid reason to abort per se. Going back to obscure double standards of the 1985 law, the Justice Minister Mr Gallardón recommends women to argue ” psychical risk” for themselves in the case of malformation of the fetus. Yet, that would not be so easy, taking into account that it would require an accreditation signed by two psychiatrists working at two separate centers, different from the one in which the abortion would take place. Apart from that, young women between 16 and 17 have lost the right to abort without parental consent.

This new abortion law does not have the support of other political parties, and has even raised discordant voices within the Popular Party. In Brussels, the PES, the GUE/NGL, ALDE, and GREENS/EFA have already shown their opposition to this legislation. Conversely, the EPP alongside the European Commission prefer not to stand pro or against the Spanish abortion law, arguing that it is an internal affair of Member State. But, what about Spanish society? Is there a significant part moving alongside the pendulum?

[caption id="attachment_2158" align="alignright" width="176"] Source FEMEN_Movement[/caption]

It is true that for small, but influential, extreme right and ultra-catholic groups, the new draft legislation represents a step forward, but it is also considered too mild as it does not offer enough protection to the life of the unborn. It is not surprising, given that for them, abortion is equivalent to murder. However, a recent survey carried out by Metroscopia for El Pais has revealed that 80% of Spaniards (and this includes Popular Party voters) do not support Gallardon’s abortion law. Along these lines, 75% of the respondents thought that the modification of the law was not based on a social demand. Moreover, the majority of them considered that it will increase clandestine abortion, posing a risk for women’s health.

Given this scenario, it is not surprising that the Spanish people feel concerned about the ease with which women’s rights (and other rights such as labor rights or the right to demonstrate freely) swing together with the pendulum of the government in power.

One Comment

  1. Congrats for the article Silvia, very appropiate however as you might be aware a bit mild for my taste. I just would like to add a couple of questions:

    1) Is any policy undertaken by social demand in the EU context? -Making this question within the spanish policy framework would be an insult for inteligence of the average spanish citizen-

    2) Is Torquemada going to postulate himself for the EP elections? Is Galileo right? Shall we burn witches?

What do you think?