Abortion hospital image
Abortion has always been a controversial issue in a country with strong Catholic roots. It wasn’t until 1985 that the practice was legalised in Spain and it’s still only available in cases of rape, deformed foetuses or if the pregnancy poses a serious threat to the health of the mother. And whilst Spain may now permit gay marriages and scientific experiments on human embryos, it still doesn’t support abortion on the public health service. In Catalunya, this means patients can’t rely on the CatSalut health system, and have to seek treatment in private clinics where abortions cost anything up to €500.
The time limits on abortions are strictly defined in Spain. In the case of rape, a woman can request an abortion within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy as long as an official police complaint has been lodged against the aggressor. In the case of a malformed foetus or potential health risk, the abortion can be performed up to the 22nd week of the pregnancy. Abortions performed outside of these limits carry a potential prison sentence of up to three years. However, whilst the time limits are strict, the definition of what constitutes a ‘health risk’ is very broad in Spain. Around 97 percent of abortions locally are performed due to ‘health risk’ concerns, according to the Generalitat. Pro-life campaigners claim that this catch-all definition means that abortion is effectively available ‘on-demand’ in Spain.
This grey area has already been subject to exploitation by some private clinics and, as a result, Barcelona’s pro-lifers claim the city is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for ‘abortion tourism’: when a woman comes here to obtain an abortion she cannot have at home. In 2004, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service admitted that it was advising women beyond the UK’s legal abortion limit of 24 weeks to seek abortions in Spanish clinics. Whilst women were sent under the impression that it was legal, in reality the clinics were ‘bending’ the law to perform late abortions.
Last year, a Danish documentary team came to Barcelona and exposed the Emece clinic, which was accepting pregnant women from abroad and falsifying their medical conditions in order to justify abortions at €4,000 per procedure. The local branch of the International Federation of Catholic Physicians (FIAMC) claims that this practice has encouraged “thousands” of women to flood into Barcelona over the past 10 years. The Association of Abortion Victims (AAV) says it has testimonies from scores of women that confirm clinics in Barcelona, “commit the crime of falsifying documents and faking psychiatric pathologies in order to perform abortions.”
However, the Generalitat estimates such cases constitute less than five percent of abortions in Catalunya. In fact, the abortion rate here in general is low compared to the rest of Europe, mainly due to the relative difficulty of obtaining an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. While medical authorisation is required here, in countries like France, Sweden and the UK, abortions are effectively available ‘on-demand’ in the early weeks of a pregnancy.
The Generalitat’s last count was at the end of 2005, when the number of abortions was estimated at 11.22 per 1,000 women compared to Sweden and England where the rate is double and in Russia, almost five times more. Nevertheless, the Generalitat estimates that abortions have increased by almost 60 percent in the past 10 years. The profile of these patients tells a story about social trends in Catalunya. “The official figures contradict the stereotypes about the type of women who usually seek an abortion,” said Cristina Martínez of the Catalan Institute of Health. “They are mainly adolescents, women who already have children and young people who have suffered contraceptive failure.”
The age profile of women going through abortions has also changed. The average age of a woman requesting an abortion is 27.3 years old, with 80 percent between 20 and 34. A third of these women are young foreigners born outside of Catalunya, mainly South Americans. “The most frequent profile at the present time is that of an unmarried woman, not in a relationship, with a primary or secondary education and who is pregnant with her first child,” according to Lluís Torralba, Assistant Director of Sanitary Resources at the Generalitat. “This is a significant shift from the early days of abortions in Spain when the vast majority of applicants were married, had children and were more than 30 years old.
There is understandable concern at this trend in a country that has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. But the reason for the increase in abortions depends on whom you ask. Whilst economic and social factors rate high—many young people in Spain are unable to economically support themselves never mind a child—family planning organisations blame it on government policy. One example is the Spanish Institute for Family Policy (IFP), which recently claimed that abortion has become an “epidemic” in Spain.
It is generally agreed that irresponsible sexual practices, and sexual pressure exerted on young women, are a big part of the problem. “There are always those who know the risks but don’t have a responsible attitude,” said the Generalitat’s Martínez. “However, the large number of young women getting pregnant is largely due to the low self-esteem that many have. If their partners demand sex without protection, it’s often difficult for them to resist. If girls don’t value themselves properly, then they don’t see it fit to take care of themselves.”
Martínez also blamed the perception young people have of contraceptives. “There are still many prejudices against contraceptives and the Generalitat is working to fight these attitudes. As regards the law being too permissive, in France and the Netherlands abortion is free on-demand during the first few weeks of pregnancy, which is not allowed in Spain.
“Until 1985, only wealthy families could take their daughters to a foreign clinic for an abortion. Those that couldn’t afford to relied on ineffective methods such as healers, or potions that were dangerous or simply did not work.”
Clinics that perform abortions:
Agrupación Tutor Médica, Calle Berguedà, nº 19
Tel. 93 419 2626, www.tutormedica.com
Centro Casanovas, Sepúlveda 80 (local 1)
Tel. 93 426 9734, firstname.lastname@example.org
Centre Mèdic Les Corts, Nicaragua, 128-130, baixos
Tel. 93 430 8708, email@example.com
Advice on contraception and abortion:
FIAPAC International Federation of Abortion and Contraception Associates: www.fiapac.org
FPFE Spanish Federacy of Organizations for Family Planning: www.fpfe.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a National Health Line that can advise you as to where your nearest Family Planning Clinic:
Tel. 902 111 444