MADRID – MADRID (AP) — A new Spanish law allowing abortion without restrictions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy went into effect Monday but the Constitutional Court could yet intervene to suspend or change it.
The law, approved by Parliament in February, was the latest item on a liberal agenda undertaken by the Socialist government, which took power in 2004. The measure is seen as bringing this traditionally Roman Catholic country more in line with its secular neighbors in northern Europe.
Equality Minister Bibiana Aido told Cadena SER radio the government was unworried by an appeal by the conservative Popular Party to the Constitutional Court challenging the 14-week clause as unconstitutional.
"The government is fully convinced of the constitutionality of the law," she said.
The Popular Party cited a 1985 ruling from the court that said a woman's rights could not automatically take precedence over those of an unborn child, and could do so only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or when the mother's health is in jeopardy.
The Constitutional Court must also decide whether to suspend the law while it studies the appeal. The court said there was no timetable for either decision.
The law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to have abortions without their parents' permission, although the parents have to be informed. It also wipes away the threat of imprisonment for having an abortion and declares it a woman's right.
"Above all it is a more secure law, providing legal protection for both women and health professionals," said Aido. She said it reflected the needs of Spanish society better than the previous law.
Under the previous law, which dated to 1985, women could in theory go to jail for getting an abortion outside certain strict limits — up to week 12 in case of rape and week 22 if the fetus was malformed.
But in effect abortion has been widely available because women can assert mental distress as sole grounds for having an abortion. Most of the more than 100,000 abortions carried out each year in Spain were early-term ones that fell under this category.
Fewer than 1,000 people gathered in Madrid on Saturday to protest the new law, down from the hundreds of thousands of people that have attended protests in recent years.
"The drama of abortion has been in Spain for 25 years, it has caused terrible pain to over a million women, more than a million children have not been born," anti-abortion campaigner Benigno Blanco told Associated Press Television.
"With this new law this drama is going to get worse. What we want to say is 'enough of abortion.'"