In the last three years, we’ve seen the United States drastically reduce access to abortion in a vast majority of the country. Through mandatory waiting periods and onerous, unnecessary clinic regulations, physician requirements and gestational limits, it has become harder than ever to actually terminate a pregnancy in many states. The U.S. isn’t alone in curbing abortion rights, however. Now Spain is jumping into the fray, with new limits that are being called a “serious step backwards” by those who want to protect the right to choose.
Current abortion law in Spain allows terminations at any point in the first trimester (up to 14 weeks), only putting limits on the procedure later in pregnancy, after which it can then only be done if the pregnant person’s health is in danger or if the fetus has genetic anomalies, and then just through the 22nd week. This liberal abortion legalization occurred in 2010. Prior to that, abortion was technically illegal except in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or risk to physical or mental health, which abortion opponents said provided enough loopholes that tens of thousands of “mental health risk” abortions were being performed per year.
Spanish political leaders not only want to see legal abortion ended, but wish to end the “loopholes,” too. The new regulations, according to The Guardian, will turn back the clock on legal abortion, making it once more illegal in all cases except for the previous exceptions passed in 1985: rape, incest and a patient’s physical and mental health. In a new twist, fetal anomalies would no longer be grounds for allowing a pregnancy to be terminated unless it will likely “endanger the child” after birth, a trend that we are seeing occur in many states in the U.S., too. Young teens aged 16 and 17 would also need their parent’s permission.
The new rules, which were announced Friday, could cause a few different reactions in the country. Depending on how a “serious” risk to mental health is defined, Spain may be returning to the same system they had prior to 2010, where pregnant women and girls had to get a doctor to agree that continuing the pregnancy would “damage” her. It was a step that seems to have done little to slow down the abortion rate in the country, as anti-abortion advocates consistently noted.
If “serious” risk forces doctors to be rigid in their determination, potentially leaving abortion as only available if she threatens suicide, that could lead to a situation not unlike one many people in America are currently facing. A person with money could travel, in this case to a different country where abortion laws are less restrictive. Those who are poor, however, will seek out less legal, and likely less safe, options.
“For the first time in years the woman will have to abide by the decisions of others – a doctor, a judge, who have no regard for her personal convictions, or her intimate feelings. This bill will completely obliterate the free will of the woman,” Dr. Diego Fernandez Alvarez, a Spanish physician, told EuroNews in November. “Inevitably, this will create two different situations. The woman who has the economic means will go abroad where she’ll have an abortion with all legal and health guarantees. The woman who doesn’t have these means will be condemned to an illegal abortion, without legal or health guarantees.”
Many of the pregnant poor who live in low clinic access states in America are finding themselves either forced to travel to a different state for an abortion or if they can’t, turning to flea markets and other sources for abortion drugs. For Spain, depending on how the new rules are written, their own situation may become just as inequitable. And, sadly, just as dire.
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