Spain’s Proposed Abortion Law is Everybody’s Problem
In December last year the Spanish conservative (People’s Party – PP) government approved a new abortion law. Today it was announced this law would not go through. Whilst this is welcome news, the fact that it was proposed in the first place is worrying as it reflects a growing trend worldwide to restrict women’s access to healthcare. This draconian piece of legislation would have banned all abortions in the first fourteen weeks (excluding rape) as well as denying abortions to women with malformed foetuses. If this law had passed, a woman would only have been able to get an abortion if she, and doctors, could prove that to complete the pregnancy would have had a severely damaging psychological effect on her or put her life at risk.
The fourteen week ban formed a central part of the opposing socialist party’s (PSOE) argument. The change in legislation to allow terminations in the first 14 weeks “without a reason” was introduced in 2010 by the PSOE. The PP argued that this violated the “equilibrium” between the rights of the foetus and rights of the woman and that the law was unconstitutional. Already this law was more restrictive than in other parts of Europe (in the UK for example you can get an abortion up to 24 weeks) but obviously not restrictive enough for the Catholic church, still a big influence in Spain, who welcomed the proposed new legislation. The 2010 law is in itself flawed: no woman gets an abortion for “no reason”. Here’s a reason: a woman doesn’t want a child. Why do people think women get abortions? For laughs? For something to do of a weekend? Of course not. Getting an abortion is often a traumatic experience and there are a host of different reasons, specific to each individual, why she decides to have one. And therein lies an important point: she decides to have one. The decision should be the woman’s and the woman’s only – her body, her choice.
This desire to restrict women’s access to healthcare is not limited to Spain. In America, abortion clinics are being forcibly closed meaning women have to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to get a simple procedure. Ireland’s strict abortion law, or as Jessica Valenti called it “not a policy but a persecution”, recently denied a termination at eight weeks to a suicidal under-age girl who had been raped. In Germany, abortions are banned after twelve weeks (unless there is a grave threat to the woman’s life) and a woman has to wait three days and undergo a mandatory counselling session. In Belgium there is a six day waiting period and the woman has to “show” she is in a “state of distress”. In Eastern European countries where liberal abortion laws were introduced under communism, the clock is being turned back (in Russia a new law only allows abortions up to twelve weeks).
Severely restricting abortion (and therefore demonizing women who get one) damages not just the health of women, but the health of society. It legally says “you are not the best judge of what is right for your body” and “you are not the best judge of what is right for your life.” It treats a woman’s body as something belonging to the state. In Spain, women have been going into government offices asking for their bodies to be added to commercial registries so legally (and with a certificate to prove it) they own them. This may seem like a stunt, but it reflects exactly what women feel: they do not own their bodies and do not control what happens to them.
As more restrictive legislation is rolled out across Europe and America we need to stand together to demand better of our politicians. This is not Spain’s problem, this is our problem. At least someone writing the title for the now shelved Spanish law has a sense of humour. To name the legislation “the protection of the rights of the pregnant woman” is laughable when the law would have done the exact opposite. It would have denied women their basic rights. This is dangerous and it is wrong.