abortion law

   Under the Franco regime illegal abortion had been very widely practised as a form of birth control. Until the legalization of contraceptives in 1978, numbers of abortions are estimated to have been between 300,000 and 350,000 a year in the 1970s (about 40 percent of the figure for live births). In 1985 a law decriminalizing voluntary termination of pregnancy in special cases was approved. It provided for termination on grounds of danger to the life of the mother or the child, risk of foetal malformation, and rape. Facilities for termination were made available in public centres and in accredited private clinics, of which there were 215 and 54 respectively in 1991. Figures given in that year in an answer to parliamentary questions showed that since 1985 a total of 110,000 women had obtained legal abortions in Spain, the most frequent ground being danger to the physical or psychological health of the mother. Over 40 percent of the women were under 25, and between 1987 and 1989 10,000 operations had been performed on women between the ages of 15 and 19 years, representing 13 percent of all legal abortions. Of all the autonomous communities, Madrid had the highest number of legal abortions (8,238). The information also showed that there had been a significant reduction in the numbers of Spanish women seeking abortions abroad. The UK had always been the most frequent destination, with over 14,000 a year by 1978 and 22,002 in 1983. By 1989 the figure had dropped to 1,332. A different set of figures, however, from a study financed by the Instituto de la Mujer and included in the World Health Organization's Special Programme of Investigation into Human Reproduction, pointed to a continuing high level of illegal abortion. These data suggested that there were in fact in the region of 105,000 terminations every year in Spain (nearly six times the admitted figure), 71 percent of which were illegal. Equally remarkable was the revelation that some 97 percent of legal terminations took place in private clinics. Though the conscientious objection clause offered an escape route to health professionals in the public sector unwilling to perform the operations, there were indications that some of those objecting were subsequently carrying out terminations in a private centre. Reform of the law was already being discussed, and earlier in 1991 a draft proposal to extend decriminalization of abortion on socioeconomic grounds had been drawn up by a commission of five experts. This was considered a moderate proposal in the face of pressure from, on the one hand, those who favoured extending decriminalization even further, and, on the other, continuing opposition by the Spanish bishops, who published in the same year El aborto, 100 cuestiones y respuestas sobre la defensa de la vida humana y la actitud de los católicos (Abortion: 100 Questions and Answers on the Defence of Human Life and the Attitude of Catholics).
   In 1992 the Government announced it was seeking to negotiate the extension of abortion by a "combined system of time limits and specified conditions". In 1994 a joint proposal from the Ministries of Justice and Interior, Health and Social Affairs, was referred to the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ—the General Council of the Judiciary). It would have permitted a woman to terminate her pregnancy in the first 12 weeks, on condition that she waited three days to hear arguments from state representatives in favour of preserving life, and received counselling on the various supports available, and on the juridical and medical aspects of termination. There was strong opposition from conservative political and judicial quarters, as well as from the Conference of Bishops, who had already in 1993 maintained that the State had no competence to legislate in favour of abortion. Feminist organizations were also unhappy with the proposal, because, since it did not tackle the problem of conscientious objection in the public health sector, it would strengthen economic discrimination. They were also concerned that counselling could become a form of coercion. In the event the proposal failed to get the expected majority approval of the CGPJ and was not pursued.
   Towards the end of 1994 the government announced that it would introduce legislation to legalize abortion on socio-economic grounds the following February. However, because the socialist PSOE party did not have an overall majority, it was forced to make pacts with the PP and other conservative parties, in particular the CiU, which resulted in lengthy delays.
   Further reading
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 10 discusses abortion in the context of the sexual revolution).
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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