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Spain's new abortion law: will the Ley Gallardón push women's rights back 30 years?

Por: | 20 de febrero de 2014


Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. / GORKA LEJARCEGI


What will happen to women in Spain when the Ley Gallardón comes into force? There has been much speculation in the press as to what the effects of the new law may be, and a look at statistics from across Europe paint a distressing picture.

We’ll start in the UK, where government statistics show that the vast majority of those coming from abroad to undergo abortions come from Ireland, where abortion laws are amongst the strictest in the world. Just a glance at a graph shows the influx.

Strict laws do not remove the problem they simply move it overseas, often with tragic consequences.

The Republic of Ireland has similar laws to those suggested under new legislation in Spain, and abortion is permitted only in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. Spain’s proposed law change may be slightly more liberal, permitting terminations in cases of rape, but such cases are relatively rare.

According to government statistics, in 2012 a full 91.26% of abortions were carried out at the request of the mother and not ostensibly for health reasons or fetal abnormalities. Only 5.67% of operations were carried out because of a threat to a woman’s life. It is unclear how many were because of rape.

As data in the above graph show, many women travel abroad when they are unable to get the treatment they need at home. This was the case in Spain before law changed in 2010.

These data highlight the issue at the centre of the debate: choice. A move away from more liberal rulings would put Spain in a bracket with countries not famed for their human rights records, such as Djibouti and other less than liberal third-world nations.

As the map below shows, Spain would be in a conservative minority, on rough legal parity with Poland. Only a tiny minority, including Ireland and Cyprus, will have stricter laws. Ireland stands as a poignant reminder of the possible effects of restrictive legislation. A woman died in 2012 after being refused an abortion. Although abortion is permitted in the Irish Republic if a woman’s life is in danger, the stringent nature of the rules mean that there is more scope for mistakes.


Countries shaded in darker colours have more restrictive laws. Note that Spain’s colour is representative of the situation under the Ley Gallardón.

It is worth noting that this map is a rough guide; although some countries may have more laws in place, eg. the UK having stricter rules than France, this may not affect the ease of getting an operation in practice. An interactive map showing abortion laws across the world can be viewed here.

There is much speculation about whether a trip across the border is likely to be the solution for Spanish women who cannot receive treatment at home. However abortions are incredibly costly.

For a Spanish woman wanting to travel to the UK the prices make sobering reading. A consultation, whether over the phone or in person, is £82. A non-surgical abortion, by way of a pill, costs £464. Surgical abortions range from £562 to £1958 depending on the length of the pregnancy at the time of the operation. A woman must pay an extra £42 if she wants to be seen at the weekend.

 For many vulnerable Spanish women earning average wages the costs are simply too high. The mean salary in Spain is around €1,639 a month, and some procedures exceed this figure. This does not factor in the emotional costs of having to travel abroad, perhaps alone, perhaps without understanding the nation’s language, to undergo a difficult operation.

What is more, those women who are most likely to need an abortion are those hardest hit by the crisis - 20-24 year olds. With unemployment so high in this age group, relying on family members for financial help may be crucial. Many futures will be at the mercy of others who may not be sympathetic.

Choice, then, is what this is all about. Giving women control over their bodies is one of the greatest liberal triumphs of the 20th century, and Zapatero’s 2010 overturning of archaic rules was a triumph. The consequences of the PP’s reversion may be catastrophic.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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