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Spanish abortion law - giving women a choice is anything but backwards

Por: | 11 de marzo de 2014

 Madrid abortion protest 1
Police and protestors during February 1 protest against the Ley Gallardón

A leading official in the Spanish Catholic church has likened abortion to a ‘silent holocaust’ and said abortions were evidence of a ‘backward society’.

Bishop of Alcalá de Henares, Juan Antonio Reig Pla, was speaking last week in the run up to Jornada Mariana por la Familia y la Vida, a religious event involving the defence of family values, which will take place on 29 and 30 March. Reig said that women’s freedom cannot be “corrupted” by the defence of “the right to terminate the begotten child”.

His comments come against the backdrop of the controversial Ley Gallardón, a new abortion law recently approved by the Spanish Cabinet, and, unsurprisingly, championed by the Catholic church.

The new law would make it illegal for women to have an abortion except for in the case of rape or if there was a proven risk to their physical or mental health - it would be illegal to abort in the case of fetal malformations. Women would need the signed permission of two separate medical professionals before being allowed to seek a termination.

Contrary to Bishop Reig’s claims that abortions are evidence of a backward society, it is the new law which threatens to set back women’s rights over thirty years.

Spanish women’s groups have said the new law will plunge women’s rights back to the days of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, “The changes represent a reversal of our right to decide, which will take us back to another era,” said Feminist Coordinator, an umbrella organisation of women’s rights groups.

The new law would make Spain one of the most restrictive European countries on terminations, along with Poland and Ireland and the first EU country to do a U-turn after legalising abortion. The previous Socialist government relaxed abortion laws, giving women the right to abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The vast majority of Spaniards disagree with the Reig’s comments - four out of five Spaniards are against the bill and even most Partido Popular (PP - the ruling party) voters think it is unnecessary, with several PP politicians speaking out against the law.

Polls show that over 80 percent of Spaniards, including practicing Catholics, support abortion on demand. 

Madrid abortion protest 2
Protesters during the February 1 march in Madrid 

Protestors have taken to the streets in recent weeks, armed with placards decrying the bill. “I'll be mother if I want to be,” “Bishops and PP, against women” and “Get your rosaries off our ovaries,” were just a handful of the signs carried by protestors in Madrid on 1 February. 

The new law is an issue that cuts to the heart of Spanish society - traditionally Catholic, but increasingly socially liberal - Spain was the third country in the world to legalise same sex marriage, in 2005, and the previous Socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero made a concerted effort for gender equality - Zapatero’s first government comprised of eight men and eight women.

Critics have pointed out that severely restricting the availability of terminations will not stop terminations, it will merely make it more dangerous and difficult for women to terminate their pregnancies, resulting in women either travelling abroad or going through with unregulated illegal terminations.

The law has even been debated in the European Parliament, with Social Democrats, Greens and other left-wing parties joining forces to reject the proposed changes. Women’s Committee Chairman, Mikael Gustafsson, expressed concern over the new legislation:

“It’s a question of human rights; that women can decide about their own body and that it is not men who decide.”

Many have questioned why the Spanish government would reopen an always controversial and divisive issue when it should really be focusing on the issues most important to Spanish people - the economy and the unemployment rate of 26 percent. 

Spanish inquisition
"Nobody expected the Spanish inquisition"

Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy has consistently defended the bill, arguing that he is fulfilling an election promise.

Justice Minister, Albert Ruiz-Gallardón, has defended the law. “You have my word that no screams or insults could provoke me to abandon my commitment to comply with the (Partido Popular's) platform to regulate the rights of women and the unborn.”

By shifting so far to the right Rajoy risks alienating centre voters, a risky move for an already unpopular prime minister, distrusted by the majority of Spaniards, a year before elections.

Bishop Reig’s comments this week are reminiscent of a time when the Catholic church had an iron grip on the politics of Spain and shows that it still enjoys a great deal of influence among certain sections of the Partido Popular and the right.

Many Spaniards would argue that the backwards society is not the one that allows free access to terminations, as Bishop Reig claims, but one that returns to Franco-era abortion policies, forces women to seek unregulated terminations and most importantly, ignores public opinion, which is clearly and overwhelmingly, against the law.

Hay 6 Comentarios

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the biggest issues always have Catholic or religious countries (or communities.)

if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys

Let's be honest. When it comes to abortion, the biggest issues always have Catholic or religious countries (or communities.)

That's wonderful, thank you! Good for people with specific needs as well!

I was into this issue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys

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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

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