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(Madrid) – The Spanish government should protect women’s access to safe and legal abortion by scrapping draft legislation that would ban abortion with only severely limited exceptions, according to a letter sent on May 9, 2014, to Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón by six national and international groups. According to media reports, the government plans to introduce the bill in June.

Alianza por la Solidaridad, Center for Reproductive Rights, European NGOs for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Population and Development (EuroNGOs), Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal, Human Rights Watch, and Rights International Spain called the draft legislation “a serious threat to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

The proposed changes to Spain’s abortion law would put the country out of step with the vast majority of EU countries and expose Spain to condemnation by international and European human rights bodies, the groups said.

International human rights law recognizes that access to safe and legal abortion is crucial to women’s and girls’ effective enjoyment and exercise of their human rights, including the rights to life, nondiscrimination and equality, health, privacy, to decide on the number and spacing of children, and to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. International expert bodies, such as the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health, have expressed concern about the relationship between restrictive abortion laws, clandestine abortions, and threats to women’s and girls’ lives, health, and well-being.

The European Court of Human Rights has found that restrictive abortion laws can constitute inhuman and degrading treatment. The court has ruled that in countries where abortion is legal, women must have real and effective access to such services.

Under current law in Spain, which is similar to that of most European countries, women and girls have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy up through 14 weeks. The proposed legislation would allow abortions only when the woman’s physical or mental health is endangered, up to 22 weeks, and when the pregnancy is the result of sexual violence, up to 12 weeks. This would create significant obstacles to abortion even in those limited circumstances, requiring two specialist doctors to testify to the threat to physical or mental health of a woman and forcing women seeking an abortion as a result of sexual violence to make a report with the police. And those seeking abortions for any reason would have to undergo mandatory counseling and waiting periods. Furthermore, the bill would allow medical providers to refuse to provide abortion care as a matter of conscience without adequate regulation and monitoring in these cases to ensure women have access to life-saving medical care.

The Spanish government should take all necessary steps to ensure that women and girls in Spain have informed and unhindered access to safe and legal abortion services in the exercise of their reproductive and other human rights, the groups said. 

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