Spain: The Abortion Agenda
This article was originally published in our Spring 2010 issue. The author suggested that we post this article on our website, saying: “The new Government has announced a reform of the abortion law, but it is still unclear how it would be implemented. That is the reason why many people are interested now in this topic.” We are pleased to post it here to keep our readers informed on abortion world events.
In November 2009, pro-life leaders from all over the world gathered in Spain for the Fourth Pro-Life World Congress.
There were representatives of social organizations that support women and the unborn, scientists and doctors whose work is dedicated to life, jurists and magistrates who denounce the legalization of the killing of the most defenseless human beings, and professors and politicians highly committed to the cause.
What impressed me most at the Congress was the courage and energy of the Latin American pro-life advocates, as well as the decisive action of pro-life organizations from the United States. The clarity and frankness of the delegates from the Americas was truly enviable—and Spain needs to take fresh impetus from these younger nations. We have a lot to learn from the American outlook, and especially the freedom with which Americans express their opinions.
The Congress took place in the right place and at the right time: The Spanish government has recently made public a “sexual and reproductive health national strategy” whose main objective is “universal access to sexual and reproductive health,” including “guaranteed access to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” Notice the euphemism: They don’t refer to “termination,” but rather to “interruption”—as if the unborn life, once aborted, could continue some time in the future.
The new abortion law1 will come into force on July 4, 2010. It provides:
(1) abortion-on-demand during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy; (2) abortion until the 22nd week if there is “a serious life or health hazard for the pregnant woman” or if there is “risk of serious fetal anomalies”; and (3) no time limit for abortions when “fetal anomalies incompatible with life” or “an extremely serious and incurable disease” are detected.
This represents a radical change in the legal understanding of abortion in Spain: Its status is going to change from a crime to something that is a “right” during the first weeks of pregnancy, and that will even be made available as a service of the National Health System. Furthermore, if for any reason a public-health-system hospital is unable to provide the abortion, a pregnant woman will have the right to have the abortion at any other authorized center and have it paid for with public funds.
Before this new law, abortion was held to be a crime because it violates the legal good of the “life of the nasciturus”2 (“the one to be born”) though it was decriminalized in three situations.3 The three situations are narrowly defined as follows: (1) no restriction for abortions “necessary to avoid a serious risk for a pregnant woman’s life or physical or mental health”; (2) abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy if the pregnancy is the result of rape; and (3) abortion until the 22nd week if “it is presumed that the fetus may be born with serious physical or mental defects.”
In spite of the fact that abortion has until now been considered an offense against the law, there has been, in the past two decades, an alarming increase in the number of abortions: The abortion rate was 4.29 per 1,000 women in 1990, but has risen to 11.78 in 2008. According to official sources, 115,812 abortions were carried out in 2008. The stated reason for 96.96 percent of them was “maternal health,” and 98.09 percent of abortions were performed at private centers.4 It has long been clear that this “maternal health” justifi-cation is a legal fraud, and our worst suspicions were confirmed in 2006 by the then-president of ACAI (association of clinics authorized for the volun-tary interruption of pregnancy): “Even though in Spain there isn’t a law which contemplates abortion as a woman’s voluntary right . . . we interpret that [for] any unwanted pregnancy . . . an abortion can be practiced based on the actual legislation if a medical report signed by a psychiatrist confirms that her mental health is at risk.”5
This has given the abortion-rights backers a lot of momentum. Many people in Spain think that we already have abortion-on-demand, simply because if a pregnant woman wants an abortion, the private abortion clinics will just go ahead and perform it, under the pretense of a risk to her mental health. The current disrespect for the life of unborn children is the result of years of passiveness, years of non-observance of the depenalization abortion law. It has brought about the tacit acceptance of abortion.
Since the decriminalization of abortion in the three specific circumstances I mentioned above, in 1985, there has not been a great outcry against abortion. Different parties have controlled the government, but none has taken any action on this matter, because there has been too little public demand—either for strict observance of the law, or for the repeal of decriminalization.
The debate over the new abortion law, however, is changing the situation considerably. It is waking up more and more Spaniards to the reality of abor-tion, and to society’s responsibility to support pregnant women and to respect the principle “thou shalt not kill.”
In October 2009, more than one million people marched peacefully in Madrid under the slogan “For Life, Women, and Maternity. Every Life Matters.”6 It was the largest demonstration of any kind in the last few decades. What was most surprising—and encouraging—was the large number of young people present, as well as the festive atmosphere. Spain is truly starting to mobilize in favor of life.
The next months and years will be extremely exciting for this mission. The need for a culture of life has never been more urgent. It is time we reflected on the fundamental principle of respect for every human life. That means not abandoning the women who are dealing with unwanted pregnancies—women who, all too often, are abandoned by the men in their lives, and by society as a whole, to bear the entire responsibility of the abortion decision and its harmful physical and emotional consequences.7 The pro-life position is first and foremost a pro-solidarity and pro-woman attitude.
The tragedy of abortion is not only the tragedy of the dead, unborn children; it is also that of the deep loneliness of the woman who feels compelled to abort, the tragedy of the father of the aborted baby, and that of a hypersexualized society which erodes people’s respect for other persons and indeed for life itself. The underlying idea is that if reality does not agree with one’s individual desires, one may simply break away from it. Since an unexpected child does not fit my desires, I put an end to the problem by eliminating it, by killing him. Is this the society we want? Can we really call this progress or modernity?
A nation that permits abortion not only allows mothers to kill their unborn children, but also tries to legitimize this through the creation of a “right” to do so. Thus the violation of the first right—the right to live—is turned into a sadistic right to kill. How can one hope that a legal system that contributes to abortion will be able to guarantee the minimum respect due to any other human life?
Let us work for a future where everyone is respected and accepted, where problems are not solved by killing anyone or by abandoning anyone, where real freedom is clearly identified as an attitude of being open to one another. It is our duty to the unborn, the women, and the community as a whole to warn everyone about the dire consequences of the promotion of abortion. Those who do not want to be accomplices of this tragedy need to spread the culture of life: not only to suggest a different understanding of abortion, but a rediscovery of the beauty of life itself.
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Carmen González Marsal is a Ph.D. student, specializing in human rights, in the philosophy of law department at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain).
1. LO 2/2010, de 3 de marzo, de salud sexual y reproductiva y de la interrupción voluntaria del embarazo (Law on sexual and reproductive health and the voluntary interruption of pregnancy), BOE, n. 55, sec. I, 04/03/2010, available at http://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2010/03/04/pdfs/BOE-A-2010-3514.pdf [ref. 10/03/2010].
2. Constitutional Court Judgment 53/1985, legal foundation 5º, available at http://www.boe.es/ aeboe/consultas/bases_datos/doc.php?coleccion=tc&id=SENTENCIA-1985-0053 [ref. 20/11/ 2009].
3. Art. 417 bis of the Penal Code of 1973, wording according to the LO 9/1985, available at http:/ /www.boe.es/boe/dias/1985/07/12/pdfs/A22041-22041.pdf [ref. 20/11/2009].
4. MINISTERIO DE SANIDAD Y CONSUMO: Interrupción voluntaria del embarazo, 2008, available at http://www.msc.es/profesionales/saludPublica/prevPromocion/docs/ publicacionIVE_2008.pdf [ref. 20/11/2009] and MINISTERIO DE SANIDAD Y CONSUMO and OBSERVATORIO DE SALUD DE LA MUJER: La interrupción voluntaria del embarazo y los métodos anticonceptivos en jóvenes, 2006, available at http://www.msc.es/eu/novedades/ docs/interrupcion2006.pdf [ref. 20/11/2009].
5. BARAMBIO BERMÚDEZ, S.: “Why abortion is performed in Spain until 26 weeks,” VII FIAPAC Congress, Rome, 14/10/2006, available at http://www.fiapac.org/media/Roma/ FIAPAC_Rome_2006_Sa_1100_Vidot.pdf?phpMyAdmin=LNnPTp9uIV39b-McBypzPD84EE3 [ref. 20/11/2009]. In Spanish: “Por qué en España se practican abortos hasta las 26 semanas,” VII Congreso de FIAPAC, Roma, 14/10/2006, available at http://www.acaive.com/pdf/ Porque%20en%20Espana%20se%20practican%20abortos%20 hasta%20las%2026%20semanas%20FIAPAC%202006.pdf [ref. 20/11/2009].
6. The demonstration was shown on Intereconomia TV, videos available at http://www.albadigital.es/ 2009/10/22/videos/especial-17-o-en-intereconomia-tv-parte-i/ [ref. 20/11/2009].
7. “It is she alone who finally decides whether the child comes into the world. She is the respon¬sible one. For the first time in history, the father and the doctor and the health-insurance actuary can point a finger at her as the person who allowed an inconvenient human being to come into the world. The deepest tragedy may be that there is no way out. By granting to the pregnant woman an unrestrained choice over who will be born, we make her alone to blame for how she exercises her power. Nothing can alter the solidarity-shattering impact of the abortion option.” STITH, R.: “Her choice, her problem: How abortion empowers men,” First Things, Aug./Sept. 2009, pp. 7-9.