All women in Spain can have an abortion up until they are three-and-a-half months pregnant, without exception. But a bill approved last Friday by the Spanish council of ministers, if endorsed by Parliament, would change that, jeopardizing the rights – and lives – of Spanish women and girls.

Under the proposed law, abortion would be allowed only if the woman’s physical or psychological health is endangered (up to 22 weeks) and in rape cases (up to 12 weeks). A rape victim must have reported the rape to the police, and girls must get parental or guardian consent in this and all other cases. The bill also allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions, threatens doctors who perform abortions outside the law with prosecution, and prohibits advertising for abortion clinics.

Thousands of people took to the streets across Spain to protest the bill. Opposition parties have vowed to fight it. With its absolute majority in parliament, though, the ruling Popular Party could force these changes through, much to the detriment of Spain’s women.   

Human Rights Watch research has consistently shown that restrictions on legal abortion drive women and girls to clandestine and unsafe procedures that threaten their health, and sometimes their life. This happens even when the law, like this one, makes some exceptions to protect the health and lives of women and girls.

For example, rape victims, who may out of fear or shame hide sexual abuse and resulting pregnancies until it’s “too late” will be forced to choose between continuing potentially unwanted pregnancies or seeking illegal services. The same goes for women pregnant with unviable fetuses – that is, pregnancies with fetuses that may not have a fully-formed heart or brain, making it impossible to give birth to a living, healthy baby.

International experts and United Nations agencies have frequently expressed concern about the relationship between restrictive abortion laws, clandestine abortions, and threats to women’s lives and health. The few exceptions to criminalization in the proposed law won’t protect the rights of women and girls, and the law threatens their rights to equality, life, health, and physical integrity. It also denies women the right to decide on the number and spacing of children, and could subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Women’s rights in Spain face a huge backwards step.