Spain abortion: Challenge to bill fails in parliament

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Pro-choice protesters in Madrid, 8 FebruaryImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
"Free mother": pro-choice protesters in Madrid on Saturday

A controversial bill in Spain to end women's right to abortion on demand is set to be passed after an opposition challenge was defeated in parliament.

The challenge from the Socialists was defeated by 183 votes to 151 in parliament, where the conservative Popular Party has a solid majority.

The ruling party allowed a secret ballot and six MPs abstained.

Some of its own MPs oppose the bill, which critics say will force Spanish women to travel abroad for abortion.

Opinion polls suggest up to 80% of Spaniards, including practising Catholics, believe the draft law is unnecessary.

The Church itself backs the bill, which is championed by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who said lawmakers had to balance the rights of women with those of unborn children.

However, with resistance to the legislation growing, the government may make amendments before finally passing it into law later this year.

'A law for suffering'

The bill was approved by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government in December, in a move seen by many as a bid to placate its right wing.

Abortion on demand was introduced in Spain under a law passed by the Socialists in 2010. The same law provides for the right to abort up to 22 weeks, if the mother's health is at risk or the foetus shows signs of severe deformities.

The new bill would reverse the changes of 2010, only allowing abortion in cases of rape or where women can prove that having a child would pose a severe risk to their physical or mental health.

"No right is unlimited," Mr Ruiz-Gallardon said.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Catholic Church endorsed the new bill at a Mass late last year

On Tuesday, MPs voted on a Socialist proposal to withdraw the bill immediately.

"If this goes ahead, the number of abortions in Spain will [still] rise and many of them will be more dangerous abortions for women," said Elena Valenciano, deputy leader of the Socialists.

"Inequality will grow, [and] Spanish women will once again be divided into two groups: those that can travel to a neighbouring country and undergo a safe abortion and those that cannot."

Joan Saura, a senator from the Catalan Green party ICV, described the government bill as "a law for women's suffering, not for their rights".

Private property

An MP from the ruling party, Marta Torrado de Castro, said the government was "prepared to have a dialogue".

A poll for left-of-centre daily El Pais last month indicated that 68% of Popular Party voters believed women should be allowed to decide for themselves about abortion.

Indignation over the bill has spilled into the streets. Last week, scores of women in different regions of Spain symbolically registered property rights to their own bodies.

"We are fed up of being told how we have to deal with our body, this is why we have decided to express our anger in a creative way, with a collective action," spokeswoman Yolanda Dominguez said.

"Our body is a territory we must re-conquer."