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Spain: Lower House of Legislature Votes on Abortion Reform Bill

(Jan. 5, 2010) A joint session of Spain's Congreso de los Diputados (Lower House) voted on December 17, 2009, on an abortion reform bill. (Ley sobre Salud Sexual y Reproductiva e Interrupcion Voluntaria del Embarazo, BOLETÍN OFICIAL DE LAS CORTES GENERALES [BOCG], Series A, No. 41-1, Oct. 2, 2009, available at
.) The new law, if enacted, would give women over the age of 16 the right to have an abortion, without their parents' consent, when there is a risk of a family's violent reaction. The procedure would be allowed within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. This law has sparked heated opposition by the large Roman Catholic population and the right-wing opposition. The bill is now headed for consideration by the Senate. (El Congreso Aprueba la Reforma de la Ley del Aborto [in Spanish], DIARIO EL PAIS, Dec. 17, 2009, available at

The current law allows an abortion only in cases of rape, serious risk to the mother's life or her mental or physical wellbeing, or when the fetus is presumed to have serious physical or mental birth defects. Such abortions must be performed within the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. (Organic Law 9/1985, July 5, 1985, BOLETIN OFICIAL DEL ESTADO, July 12, 1985, available at

Under the bill being considered, an abortion would be allowed in all cases until the 14th week, and until the 22nd week when there is risk to the mother's life or health. A physician's opinion from a doctor other than the one performing the abortion is required prior to the procedure. After the 22nd week has passed, only a clinical multidisciplinary committee would have the authority to authorize the interruption of the pregnancy upon the pregnant woman's petition and when anomalies are detected in the fetus that are incompatible with life or indicate an extremely serious or incurable illness. It sets the age of 16 years old as the age of consent for a decision on the voluntary interruption of the pregnancy. The new law considers abortion as a health benefit equal to any another procedure. A voluntary interruption of the pregnancy will be covered by the public health system and be free of charge. Furthermore, no woman would be imprisoned for interrupting her pregnancy. (BOCG, supra.)

The Socialist Party, now in power in Spain, has agreed on the latest compromises to the revised version of the bill that took away a provision allowing girls between 16 and 18 years old to have an abortion with no parental notification. Under the compromise with the Basque nationalist party the law would now require that at least one of the parents be notified of an abortion when the woman is a minor 16 or 17 years old, except in cases where such communication would constitute a serious risk of family violence, threats, coercion, aggression, or family exclusion. The compromise version of the bill also includes a provision that would allow physicians to register as conscientious objectors, in order to refuse to perform abortions. In addition, the new law guarantees reproductive and sex education in schools aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. (Las Menores que aborten tendrán que informar a sus padres salvo si hay coacción [in Spanish], DIARIO EL PAIS, Dec. 12, 2009, available at

For an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country like Spain, the socialist government has adopted a number of controversial legislative changes, such as the legalization of gay marriage, the easing of access to divorce, and now the lifting of legal requirements for an abortion, measures that many observers believe are not supported by a large section of the Spanish people.