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Opposing Spain’s abortion law: don’t blame the Church

Despite reports to the contrary, the Vatican is not the driving force behind resistance to the country’s latest social legislation; the naysaying Popular Party is the real culprit.

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Abortion has been one of several divisive social issues over recent years in Spain. Photo: RinzeWind

On July 5, Spain introduced legislation bringing the country’s abortion laws into line with those across northern Europe. In essence, the new law allows the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks and gives 16-year-olds the right to have abortions without parental consent.

Until now abortion had been illegal unless the woman could prove that she was raped, that the foetus was malformed, or that the pregnancy endangered her physical or mental health. In practice, the latter reason was used across a network of private clinics, which perform around 100,000 abortions a year.

The issue has been reported in the international media as a battle between the secular Socialist Party government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the Catholic Church.

But while the Church has organized several large demonstrations in the capital over recent years opposing women’s right to choose, abortion on demand is less an issue about the power of the Vatican in Spain; rather it illustrates perfectly the opposition Popular Party’s zero-sum approach to politics.

Now half-way into its second term in opposition, with an unpopular leader and mired in corruption scandals, it is, more than ever, the party that likes to say no. Like an uninspired and unmotivated football team, it seemingly has no ideas of its own, and hopes that it can trip up its better-organized and more imaginative opponent by playing dirty. Time and again the PP has refused to accept legislation it opposes: two recent example are the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars; or the law providing financial support for carers of dependents.

This is a long-established strategy: it worked back in the 1990s for José María Aznar, who had no social policy, and was content during his two terms in office to kick start a construction and stock exchange boom that is largely responsible for the country’s current economic debacle, countering any criticism with his stock phrase: “España va bien.”

The current leader, Mariano Rajoy, is arguably Zapatero’s greatest asset. But like his predecessor, he too has no social agenda able to enthuse the voters; unlike Aznar, even if he were to win the next election, he’s not about to inherit a fast-expanding economy. Spain isn’t doing well. Ironically, the economy’s ongoing problems and Zapatero’s difficulty in overcoming them are Rajoy’s trump card and the reason why the PP, despite its leader’s unpopularity, is ahead in the polls.

But returning to the PP’s opposition to the new abortion law, no sooner had Congress approved it, than the party appealed to the Constitutional Court. Five of the tribunal’s members voted to suspend the new law on the basis of their personal beliefs. They were overruled by the court’s six other judges.

Now the PP is saying that it will do all it can to block the legislation’s application in the regions it controls, notably Madrid and Valencia. The PP’s equality spokeswoman, Sandra Moneo, says she doesn’t see any reason for respecting “a law that is so manifestly unconstitutional.” Has her party pondered for even a moment what would happen if everybody played by the same rules, and didn’t obey laws they didn’t like?

In an exercise of breathtaking cynicism, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the PP’s spokeswoman, has covered the party’s back by saying that the abortion law must be respected. She knows that in reality, women living in regions like Valencia, Galicia, Madrid, and Navarra are already finding that the PP administrations there are doing all they can to slow down, block, or otherwise make it difficult and embarrassing for women to access abortion.

We should also remember that when in power, the PP did nothing to roll back abortion legislation, preferring instead the vagaries of a law that in effect prevented state hospitals from carrying out abortions for fear of prosecution. On this question, much is being made by the PP of the need for a register of medical staff in state hospitals who do not want to carry out abortions due to personal beliefs. While some of us might find it astonishing that a doctor or nurse can refuse to carry out a legal operation for personal reasons, the issue has been adequately dealt with in France, the United Kingdom, and other countries where abortion is available on demand.

A negative agenda

And what does the PP’s female electorate have to say about this? Of the more than 100,000 women who abort each year in Spain, not counting those who travel to Paris or London to terminate their pregnancies, a significant proportion presumably vote PP. And obviously, almost all of those women terminated their pregnancies for personal reasons, and not because they were “psychologically or physically endangered” by giving birth.

Presumably, as they are able to pay for their operations, they do not see abortion on demand as something that affects them or their daughters. Yet the party leadership, which thinks only in terms of regaining power at any cost, is prepared to allow its more extreme elements to set an increasingly negative agenda.

It isn’t just the new abortion law that is in danger thanks to the PP’s shenanigans. In its quest for power over the last two decades it has shown time and again that it is prepared to undermine the foundations that this country’s democracy is built on.

So let’s stop blaming the Catholic Church. Aside from the fact that in reality it represents less than 15 percent of Spaniards, it has repeatedly made its opposition to abortion clear: and after all, its leadership is not elected by its members, who must obey its precepts without question. The real opponent of Spain’s latest perfectly legal reform is the PP.





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Published: Aug 6 2010
Category: Uncategorized
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=1212
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1 Comment for “Opposing Spain’s abortion law: don’t blame the Church”

  1. Nick,

    Don't underestimate the unabashed political cynicism of the PSOE in this matter. Their electoral enemy is rarely the PP but the indifference of presumably loyal socialist voters. Legislation like this, and that replacing religion with 'civic education' in the schools, is an attempt to exploit the inherent unmanageability of the PP for partisan purposes.

    Rajoy's party still remains a coalition of 12 original groupings ranging ideologically from something approaching centre-right to near-Falange. Giving this latter bunch something to go completely nuts about arouses the worst fears of PSOE voters who might otherwise abstain come 2012.

    As for the PP itself, the centrist, non-suicidal factions are more than happy to see their more extreme brethren have something to sink their teeth into – especially if it's a matter utterly unrelated to the very real current matters at hand.

    Good piece.

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