New hardline abortion law prompts protests across Spain

Women's organisations predict the re-emergence of 'abortion tourism', with many travelling to Britain for operations

Madrid

Countrywide protests erupted in Spain early this weekend over the government's approval of a new hardline abortion law that will permit the procedure only in cases of rape, serious mental or physical risks to the mother, or life-threatening foetal deformities.

Three protesters were arrested on Friday when hundreds gathered outside government buildings in Madrid and burnt an effigy of Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who masterminded the law.

Other demonstrations were organised in about 20 other cities including Bilbao, Malaga and Barcelona. Spain's Socialist Party has already announced further protests. Spain's Femen movement – who had three members arrested in Madrid's parliament in October when they staged a topless protest and interrupted Mr Ruiz-Gallardon with cries of "Abortion is sacred" – warned on Twitter: "If they take away our right to decide, we'll have to abort morality, the Church and everything that limits our freedom."

The ruling Partido Popular (PP) had promised in its manifesto for the 2011 election that it would do away with current legislation, passed in 2010, that permits abortion without restrictions until the 14th week of pregnancy.

However, with 81 per cent of Spaniards saying in a 2012 poll they were opposed to changes to Spain's abortion laws, and 65 per cent of PP voters rejecting plans to make abortion for foetal deformities illegal, the government has been notably jittery about its planned reforms.

The impact of the new legislation will be hard to avoid, given it will make abortion, as it was prior to 1985 in Spain, an offence – even if the PP was at pains to emphasise that women who abort will not be punished should they break the new laws. Doctors, though, carrying out abortions considered illegal face up to three years in prison.

All of the principal opposition parties have condemned the proposed new legislation. The Socialist Party's spokeswoman Elena Valenciano stated: "The law is unnecessary, cynical and unfair because it damages women's autonomy."

Women's organisations predicted the re-emergence of "abortion tourism", with many travelling to Britain for operations.

Since the more liberal 2010 laws were passed, the number of abortions in Spain has barely increased – up by just over 5,000 to 118,359 in 2011.

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