On Thursday, Spanish lawmakers voted to ease restrictions on abortion, approving a bill to allow the procedure unrestricted until 14 weeks into the pregnancy. This comes on the heels of a lawsuit against the Irish government’s prohibitive abortion laws, and illustrates the extent to which these two historically Roman Catholic countries lag behind their more secular neighbors in terms of abortion rights. The Spanish law is expected to be approved by the Senate early next year.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist who took power in 2004, has led an ambitious reform agenda which culminated in this new law. Under Zapatero, gay marriage has also been legalized and divorce restrictions have been eased. These moves have not been popular with conservatives and the Catholic Church.
But the abortion law in particular reverses a historical denial of women’s reproductive freedom. The AP writes, “under the current [abortion] law, which dates back to 1985, Spanish women could in theory go to jail for getting an abortion outside certain strict limits — up to week 12 in case of rape and week 22 if the fetus is malformed.” Abortion was nevertheless widely available because women can assert mental distress as the sole ground for accessing the procedure, regardless of the progress of the pregnancy. More than 100,000 abortions are conducted in Spain each year, and most of them are early-term procedures that fell under the mental distress category.
This bill, however, is important, because it erases the threat of jail time and declares abortion to be a woman’s right. This is important, because in the past there have been serious consequences for women, doctors and clinics.
The news isn’t all good though. The Socialists were forced to amend the bill so that it included parental notification for minors (although parental consent was not required). This may seem like a small concession, but if young women are forced to inform their families about an abortion, it can become problematic very quickly (as Jos on Feministing points out, strong anti-choice beliefs and incest can make safely informing families extremely difficult).
Predictably, conservatives and the Catholic Church were angry about the bill’s passage. Anti-choice protesters rallied outside the legislature, and the Spanish Bishops’ Conference “warned last month that legislators who voted in favor of the bill would be sinning and no longer eligible to receive Communion.”
The important thing is that women in Spain will soon be able to access abortion until 14 weeks, although late-term abortions may prove more difficult. Let’s hope that more and more countries extend the crucial right to choose to their female citizens.
Photo courtesy of echo4ngel's Flickr Photostream.