If you were a Martian and had landed in Spain just in time to see the TV News at 8, 8.30 and 9 this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking nothing happened yesterday except the huge lottery (The Fat One) which disgorged billions in prizes around the country. Though very little in poor old Galicia, it seems. As a sign of the (desperate) times, the government will be taking 20% of your winnings over 200,000 this year. Well, why not? You won't feel it.
When I went down to breakfast, there were 2 couples there. Being Spanish, and in obedience to the Spanish Law of Aglommeration, they were sitting at adjacent tables rather three tables away from each other, as British couples would have done. And, of course, they were unconcerned that their conversations were overheard by the rest of us. And quite possibly in the street.
The last time Spanish domestic policies merited a leader in The Times was possibly during the 1930s but I leave you this morning with this long commentary on the changes in the abortion law here. I don't imagine for a second that President Rajoy will be taking any notice of them. After all, 81% of Spaniards are said to be against the change and he clearly doesn't give a toss about them:
Abuse of Power
Spain’s proposed restrictions on abortion will damage women’s health and family life
Edmund Burke argued that “very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions”. The conservative Government of Mariano Rajoy in Spain is giving a modern twist to this maxim by stringently tightening the country’s abortion laws. It proposed a bill last week that removes a woman’s right to early termination of pregnancy. It would allow abortion only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is endangered.
The scheme is plausible to only a small minority. It breaches a principle of democratic politics by supplanting individual citizens’ private judgments with state fiat. It will erode pluralism, restrict liberty, retard the position of women in Spanish society, damage family life and inflict psychological and physical harm on women in sometimes desperate circumstances. It is a bad law that will have predictably lamentable consequences.
Legislation for legal and safe abortions is standard in most of Europe. It dates principally from the 1960s (as in Britain) or a bit later. With its relatively recent transition from dictatorship to stable and well-governed constitutional democracy in 1978, Spain was slightly later than other EU countries in adopting this type of provision.
There were no abortion laws in Spain (excepting a brief period in Catalonia during the civil war from 1936-39) until 1985. Legislation passed in that year allowed abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, up to 22 weeks in cases of foetal malformation, or in cases where the mother’s mental or physical health was at risk in carrying a pregnancy to term.
Though it was in many ways undistinguished, the Socialist Government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Mr Rajoy’s predecessor, nonetheless accomplished a few valuable social reforms. One was to pass, in 2010, an extension of the existing law on abortion. This recent liberalisation allows abortion on request up to 14 weeks, and up to 22 weeks where the mother’s health is at risk or the foetus shows signs of serious deformity.
The proposals by Mr Rajoy’s Government reverse this legislation. Though the Government protests that no woman will be prosecuted for having an abortion, that defence is weak. Doctors will be open to prosecution and will face up to three years’ imprisonment if they perform abortions considered illegal. They will thus be wary of performing abortions at all.
This legislation will not reduce the number of abortions performed on Spanish women. It will force abortion overseas, for those who can afford it, and underground, in dangerous and insanitary conditions, for those who cannot.
Some people hold strong ethical objections to the termination of pregnancy (including the Catholic Church, which has supported the Spanish Government on this issue). It is a minority view, however. Opinion polls show that most Spanish voters favour the law as it is. Even if this were not the case, the bill would remain iniquitous.
To bring the criminal law into an issue of women’s health and conscientious reflection is an abuse of government power. A constitutional society does not intrude into areas of personal judgment that most citizens consider fall within the authority of the family. Social engineering is the practice of autocratic governments. Spain’s friends and allies in Europe should prevail on Mr Rajoy to think again.