Spain: Proposed abortion limits would endanger lives and health of women and girls

The Spanish government must withdraw a proposed bill aimed at limiting women and girls’ access to safe and legal abortion services, Amnesty International said in a letter sent to the country’s Minister of Justice.

“If passed, this bill would send the country back several decades to a precarious time for women and girls’ human rights,” said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“This reform could cause an increase in the number of women and girls who resort to illegal, unsafe, clandestine and illegal procedures, risking their health and even their lives. It also limits the rights of women and girls to take their own decisions and curtails their autonomy.”

The Bill also breaches the country’s international human rights obligations and recommendations from international experts regarding the full implementation of the current law.

“The bill is also discriminatory. If passed, it would disproportionately affect young and poor women as they don’t have the necessary means to travel abroad and access safe and legal abortion services,” said Esteban Beltrán, Director at Amnesty International Spain.

The proposed bill presents a series of obstacles to accessing a safe and legal abortion. For example, any woman or girl seeking an abortion would have to obtain two certificates from doctors at different centres, confirming any risks to the life and health of the woman and the foetus. She would also be obliged to receive counselling and information on non-medical issues, and then to wait seven days during a “reflection” period. Parental consent will be obligatory for girls between 16 and 18 years of age.

The bill also requires that women and girls pregnant as a result of rape report the crime to the police before they can access a safe and legal abortion. This would be particularly problematic for migrant women and girls with irregular status, who would in some cases risk being expelled from the country if they went to the authorities to report the rape.

“Women and girls who don’t want to report a crime should not be forced to do so and, even less so, forced to do so in order to access services they need to deal with the consequences of a rape,” said Esteban Beltrán.

“The new bill establishes a humiliating series of barriers for a women or girl to overcome before they can access a legal and safe abortion.  It limits women’s autonomy,” said Jezerca Tigani.

The organization also said that the bill would have a negative impact on health professionals, creating a climate of fear that would make doctors turn patients away and fail to provide information to women. It puts medical judgment under question and limits health professionals’ capacity to provide information, advice and medical services to their patients.

“This bill is a regressive measure under international law that would have serious implications for the protection of the human rights of women and girls. Amnesty International urges the authorities to immediately withdraw it,” said Esteban Beltrán.

Background Information

On 20 December 2013, the bill titled “The Organic law for the protection of the life of the conceived and the rights of the pregnant woman” was adopted by the Spanish Council of Ministers. The bill is now pending parliamentary debate.

In 2012, the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) called on the Spanish government to guarantee the implementation of law 2/2010 to ensure equal access to safe and legal abortion services for all women. It also called on the State to ensure that the right of health personnel to exercise their right to objection of conscience doesn’t constitute an obstacle for women who want to terminate a pregnancy; and to pay special attention to the situation of adolescents and migrants.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Council of Europe have said that laws that restrict abortion increase in the number of illegal and unsafe abortions, and contribute to maternal mortality.

The bill proposes banning publicity materials about health centres that provide voluntary terminations which goes against UN CESCR recommendations regarding the obligation to inform women about safe and legal abortion services. The WHO has recommended decriminalizing the provision of and access to information regarding legal abortion.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the WHO and the Council of Europe have ruled that obligatory waiting periods are not medically necessary, that the request for more than one doctor to approve a procedure, or parental consent constitute barriers to accessing safe and legal abortion services, particularly to young women and those on low incomes. The WHO has also recommended that advice provided to any woman, if she requests it, should not try to influence her, but only enable her to make an informed decision.

Amnesty International calls on the Spanish government to guarantee that relevant individuals and organizations are actively and effectively involved in the development of the proposed bill.  This did not happen before it was adopted at the Council of Ministers on 20 December 2013.