Spain’s about to become the most repressive country in the EU when it comes to abortion rights—even as it has embraced gay marriage. It’s a disconnect that is the canary in the coal mine for Europe’s women.
With an extremely restrictive abortion ban heading towards a vote, Spain is on the verge of becoming the first country within the European Union to actually move backwards on abortion rights.
For a country that has enjoyed a fairly liberal social and sexual culture in recent decades, the backtracking on abortion—the proposed law would make the procedure illegal except in cases of rape or endangerment to the mother’s life— is all the more shocking. And it comes only four years after Spain dramatically expanded the original 1985 law permitting abortion, easing restrictions on abortion access.
And the country hasn’t just been progressive on women’s issues, either. Spain became one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage way back in 2005.
However, abortion laws have become a major target of the ruling conservative Partido Popular, which took power in 2011 after nearly a decade of Socialist Party rule. The current Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, has been unwavering in his commitment to rolling back the 2010 abortion provisions. In December of 2013, he announced the party’s goal to ensure that a “woman can only abort if she is in danger, and if it is due to a sexual assault.” To add to the restrictions, under that proposed bill a woman would have to file a prior complaint even in these two allowed cases before she is permitted to have abortion.
Yet the rest of Spain has not become so socially conservative overnight. “The polls show they [Partido Popular] are completely out of touch with population at large,” says Johanna Westeson, the Regional Director of Europe for the Reproductive Rights Center. In fact, one survey showed 80 percent of the population disapproved of the proposed restrictions. Even Celia Villalobos, who is a member of Partido Popular and is the deputy speaker of Spain’s Parliament, criticized the proposal, saying “We’re not in 1985 anymore. We’re in 2014, and things have changed.”