Spain prepares to fully legalise abortion
Spain is preparing to fully legalise abortion for the first time to allow women to have terminations on demand in the early stages of pregnancy.
By Fiona Govan in Madrid
Last Updated: 4:36PM GMT 20 Feb 2009
The move has put the Socialist government on a collision course with the Catholic Church which has argued the need "to restrict and not expand abortion" in Spain.
A parliamentary committee presented recommendations to Congress this week that included legalising early stage abortions, while gradually imposing more restrictions as pregnancies progress.
The proposals will form the basis of a draft bill to be presented to Parliament later this year that will tackle one of the traditionally Roman Catholic nation's final taboos and bring the abortion law in line with most other European countries.
The move is the latest in an ambitious programme of social change under Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that has seen him clash repeatedly with the Roman Catholic Church.
Since coming to power in 2004 his socialist government has legalised gay marriage, eased divorce laws and dropped religious education from the curriculum in public schools, all measures which have deeply angered church leaders.
In Spain abortion was decriminalised in 1985 but it is offered only under restricted circumstances and rarely in a public hospital. Terminations are only allowed until the 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape or until the 22nd week in cases of severe fetal malformation.
In early 2008, some 25 women and doctors were arrested in raids on abortion clinics in Madrid accused of falsifying doctors' certificates. The raids sparked a nationwide strike by the clinics, and forced the government to fast-track the new legislation.
Proponents of the new proposals say it is about treating women with respect, allowing them to make their own reproductive decisions rather than forcing them to seek a doctor's approval.
Carmen Monton, spokesman for the ruling Socialist party, said: "What we are talking about is for women not to face persecution when they decide about their own motherhood."
Earlier this month on a visit to Madrid, the Vatican Secretary of State met with representatives of the socialist government to oppose the softening of abortion laws.
Vatican deputy Tarcisio Bertonem said: "I tried to make them understand that it is necessary to restrict and not expand abortion."
Monsignor Martinez Camino, president of the Spanish Bishops Conference, has denounced the proposed law in strikingly political terms, saying it targeted the defenceless.
"The unborn don't vote," he said. "They don't organise." And he reiterated the Church's stance on those who have abortions or perform them. "They face automatic excommunication," he warned.