a right acquired by women after a century of struggle


Posted: Sunday May 30 2021 12:39 PM

The reform of the law on abortion is again at the center of political and social news in Spain. This was made clear by the new director of the Institute for Women and Equal Opportunities – an organ under the Ministry of Equality – Antonia Morillas, who announced on Wednesday, shortly after her taking office, one of the main priorities of its mandate: to allow minors aged 16 to 18 to terminate their pregnancy without parental consent.

The objective of this amendment is to extend the right of women to decide both during pregnancy and childbirth; a new “offensive for the defense of the body of women”. Its aims are of course those of the Government, but they go beyond the abolition of this compulsory parental authorization until now. Because Equality also wants to prevent many women from having to move to another province or community – traveling hundreds of kilometers – to exercise this right to abortion. It is surprising, but it is a real situation which is still very present in Spain.

More than 6,000 women have to travel to another province each year for an abortion, according to government data. Currently, in 12 of them, women have to take a means of transport to get to another point where they can do so. Let us recall that the termination of pregnancy has been decriminalized in Spain for more than 35 years; it is legal, an acquired right which applies throughout the territory. However, in eight provinces and two autonomous cities, no abortions have been performed for 30 years (this is the case in Palencia, Zamora, Ávila, Segovia, Teruel, Cuenca, Toledo and Cáceres, as well as Ceuta and Melilla).

As explained by ‘Newtral’, although having registered requests in the aforementioned areas, these were referred to other provinces or communities to carry out the intervention. The problem does not end there, because in many cases this practice is not only diverted to another territory, but also to private centers, despite the fact that the public health network supports this practice. For what reasons ? What sense does it make that, despite the fact that there has been a law in force since 2010, in many areas no termination of pregnancy has been reported in public centers for years? One of the factors has its own name: conscientious objection.

Conscientious objection is an individual right which has ended up being exercised as a whole “

“Although it is an individual right, it ended up being exercised en bloc, and not only in specific hospitals, but also in the entire health system of an autonomous community.” This was detailed by journalist Fernando González ‘Gonzo’, presenter of Salvados who investigated this issue in the last report published in the program: “The law recognizes that they must be practiced in the public health system, or otherwise in clinical consultation “. ‘Gonzo’, who has collected a series of testimonies from women who have experienced a situation of this type, underlines that “these clinics do not offer the same guarantees of quality of care as a hospital, and in many cases they are not not even advised. ”

For the journalist, it is not only a question of conscientious objection: “It is probably the argument – or the excuse – that the leaders of the different communities find not to even generate circuits or methods which allow , even if there are conscientious objectors, to perform abortions. in these regions. “Thus, according to ‘Gonzo’, many ‘intimidating’ experiences continue to occur in our country due to this rejection when carrying out an intervention of these characteristics, endangering the health and even the life of women.” in a state of health, with hemorrhages, and having to travel hundreds of kilometers to find themselves in clinics that no one speaks even moderately well. ”

Francoism, theater of tragedies

The struggle of women to decriminalize and legalize voluntary termination of pregnancy in Spain dates back almost 100 years. The approach was born, of course, from the hand of a woman. The anarchist Federica Montseny, who in 1936 became the first woman minister in the country’s history by occupying the portfolio of Health, proposed a revolutionary measure taking into account the political context in which it took place: the first bill on abortion in Spain. It didn’t go far. Although the draft was drafted, the Council of Ministers at the time did not approve it. Even she didn’t entirely agree.

“I was hostile, but we accept it as a lesser evil in cases where carrying a pregnancy to term would be a social, medical or personal problem for the woman who was the victim of this de facto situation,” argued Montseny of many years later, in an interview with Televisión Española in 1991. At that time, Spain was still trying to overcome the damage caused by the Franco dictatorship in the population, especially among women. Because they weren’t just relegated to second or third place in every sense of the word. Under the regime, the Penal Code punished abortions, and even the prescription of contraceptives, in prison.

In fact, the mere fact of reporting this solution already resulted in a possible fine or transfer to prison. No less serious is that the fact that the woman chose to terminate her pregnancy to hide her disgrace was counted as a mitigating circumstance to reduce the sentence. The forced opening of the country with the socio-economic modernization of other powers helped decriminalize contraceptives in 1978, although the practice of abortion continued to be persecuted and punished for another seven years; this is why, until 1985, there was a great drama on this question.

Because thousands and thousands of women, with Spanish law in mind, have had to travel to other countries, especially in the 70s and 80s, to have abortions. The UK was one of the most popular destinations – around 20,000 women came to the UK country to terminate their pregnancy in the early 1980s. France, Portugal and the Netherlands were also recurring destinations, but not all women could afford a trip of these characteristics. Many had no choice but to do so in Spain, in absolute secrecy; often in unsanitary conditions, without the assurance of a health care provider, and with fear of being discovered.

This inevitably led to hospital emergencies repeatedly seeing patients with uterine bleeding, tearing and perforation. Not only that: in 1974, 3,000 women died as a result of these abortions because they had not been performed without any safety measures. “A lot of women had a really bad time and went to see the ‘aborteras’, people who performed abortions in terrible conditions, with great dangers to women’s health,” said Consuelo Catalá, health expert. sexual and reproductive health, at El Intermediate in 2019.

It goes without saying that the machismo, inherent in the hetero-patriotic structures of the dictatorship, has in no way contributed to opening the debate on this issue. In the 1970s, many men openly denounced abortion, calling it “homicide”, “disregard for religious peace” or “biological crime” – some arguments are not far from what is still being heard. today.

The debate is born and the reforms are coming

An “unexpected” event changed everything: the trial of “Las 11 de Basauri”. In October 1979, ten women and one man discussed abortion and its consequences by sitting in the dock in the Bilbao Provincial Court for termination of pregnancy. They faced 12 years in prison. At the gates of the judicial headquarters, a group of women who multiplied for days and months cried for their release, demanding amnesty for the accused and an open debate to begin to address this issue. ‘Las 11 de Basauri’ was acquitted in 1982, then pardoned in ’83.

With this judgment, the feminist movement succeeded in preventing abortion from being a private matter and to see the light of day, since the social mobilization of women throughout Spain was activated and brought division to the streets. absolute between supporters and against the abortion law. . At the time, many of them were still required by law to abort under absolutely terrible conditions. It was in 1983 that the PSOE presented a new bill on abortion which, however, did not meet the objectives of the feminist collective. The reason: abortion has been kept in the Penal Code and practices have been prevented from developing in public health centers.

“In order for the abortion to be performed, the woman had to submit to a psychiatric report which could turn against her in the future,” Consuelo Catalá noted in El Intermedio. Thus, the first law on termination of pregnancy, published in 1985, included the following assumptions: decriminalization in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for rape, up to 22 weeks for the risk of fetal malformations and no limitation of the risk the physical and mental health of the mother. Alianza Popular appealed this law to the Constitutional Court (with the role of José María Ruiz Gallardón, father of the former minister), which ultimately agreed with the PSOE and entered into force.

The PP fought to change the reform of the abortion law promoted by Zapatero; Ruiz-Gallardón, the protagonist

Women had to wait until 2010 for abortion to be free in Spain until 14 weeks gestation. It was also a socialist government, that of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which reformed the norm. On this occasion, free abortion was granted up to 14 weeks gestation, and up to 22 weeks due to the risk of the mother or serious abnormalities in the fetus. Also on this occasion, the PP tried to change this law, and in 2013, the popular, with Rajoy at the head of the country, launched a different project that eliminated fetal malformations as one of the conditions to maintain this hypothesis. abortion.

This law was defended in the Congress of Deputies by the then PP Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who defended this project on May 13, 2013 in these terms: “If there is an interruption of pregnancy, it will be for a different reason but it can never be because of a person’s handicap, because that would amount to creating first and second class people ”. His words generated great social controversy, causing a lack of consensus even within the People’s Party.

Thus, Rajoy chose to withdraw this proposal and a year later, in 2014, Gallardón resigned his post as Minister of Justice following “the decision taken by the government regarding the withdrawal of the bill for the protection of conceived life and women’s rights ”. In 2015, Rajoy introduced an amendment to the abortion law that focused on mandatory parental permission for young people between 16 and 17 years old. Modification which placed this question at the center of the political and media agenda and which, now, still with a pro-resistance government, intends to take a further step in the eternal struggle of women to have full rights over their bodies.

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