MADRID - Agence Frence-Presse
Women with slogans written on their bodies reading "Yes to life, but I choose" and "Priests and judges out of my body" take part in a protest against a reform of the country's abortion law recently proposed by the conservative Spanish government, at Tirso de Molina Square, in Madrid, on July 29, 2012. AFP photo
Spain's conservative government has provoked a storm among women's groups with plans to tighten abortion laws to make the procedure illegal in cases where the foetus is deformed.
About 100 people took part in a rally in Madrid's central Tirso de Molina square on Sunday to protest against the proposed reform which they argue will take Spain back to the era of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
The crowd, mostly women, chanted "We give birth, we decide" and "Not one step backwards".
"It seems to us to be a throwback to the Franco dictatorship and we are not willing to accept under any circumstances measures that will take away our rights," said Justa Montero, member of the Feminist Assembly, one of the women's groups that organised the protest.
The government announced Friday it would alter an abortion law introduced by its Socialist predecessors in 2010 which gave women the legal right to abortion on demand for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The 2010 law also allowed women the legal right to abort up to the 22nd week of pregnancy in cases where the mother's health is at risk or the foetus shows serious deformities.
In cases of extreme malformation of a foetus, an abortion could be carried out at any time if approved by an ethics committee.
But Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the law should be changed to ban abortion in cases of a deformed foetus.
"I don't understand why we should deprive a foetus of life by allowing abortion for the simple reason that it suffers a handicap or a deformity," he said in an interview published in conservative daily La Razon on July 22.
The vast majority of Spaniards, 81 percent, are against banning abortion in cases where a foetus is malformed, according to a poll published Sunday in left-wing newspaper El Pais.
The reform was rejected by 65 percent of those who said they voted for the Popular Party in a general election last year as well as by 64 percent of those who define themselves as practicing Catholics.
"The minister's proposal is totally cynical," said Montero as protesters around her chanted pro-choice slogans.
"He demonstrates a concern that then is not followed up with other measures. He makes this statement at the same time as the government is cutting funding to services for handicapped people and children with deformities." Santiago Barambio, the head of the Spanish association of abortion clinics, Acai, and one of the authors of the 2010 abortion law, said the justice minister was appealing to his party's right wing with the proposal.
"The minister represents the extreme right and the ultra-Catholics, which are perhaps a minority but are very powerful economically, such as Opus Dei for example," he said in a reference to the conservative Roman Catholic organisation whose name in Latin means "Work of God".
Anti-abortion groups welcomed the planned abortion law reform.
Gador Joya, the spokesman for the "Right to Life" collective, said banning abortion in cases of a malformed foetus "is a step forward for the protection of the right to life." "But it is not enough because we believe that 97 percent of the abortions carried out for other reasons are carried out under false pretences," he added.
Before the 2010 abortion reform, women could have an abortion only in cases of rape, serious deformity or when the mother's mental or physical health was threatened.
The vast majority of the 115,000 abortions carried out in 2009, the year before the reform, were performed at private clinics and were justified on the grounds that the pregnancy posed a "psychological risk" to the woman.