Pro-choice campaigners were celebrating last month as an attempt to savagely restrict access to abortion in the Spanish state collapsed.
The right wing People’s Party government approved a law last December, which would have made abortion illegal except in very limited circumstances.
Protests by tens of thousands throughout this year have exacerbated divisions within the ruling party, leading prime minister Mariano Rajoy to finally announce the bill dead.
Justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, its most vocal supporter, failed to force it onto the parliamentary agenda in the nine months since its approval, despite his party’s absolute majority. He has now resigned.
Many within the ruling PP were not willing to jeopardise their chances in the municipal elections in May 2015. Polls have shown public opposition to the bill running at 70 to 80 percent.
The current abortion law, passed by the Socialist Party government in 2010, allows abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks where there is a serious threat to the woman’s mental or physical health or a serious risk of foetal malformation.
This brought Spanish women’s access to abortion in line with other European states. But in 2010 pro-choice campaigners argued that the new law was too restrictive.
While the previous 1985 legislation had not enshrined a right to abortion on request, neither had it placed time limits on abortion under particular circumstances.
The 22-week limit prioritises a “right to life” for the foetus over the right of the woman to decide what happens to her body. But the changes proposed by the PP in 2013 would have been a huge step backwards.
The bill sought to remove the right to abortion on request, allowing it only if the woman has been raped (and reported it to the police, and requested an abortion within 12 weeks) or if there was a serious risk to the woman’s health for reasons expressed before the pregnancy to a doctor other than the one due to perform the abortion.
The new law was thus not only an attack on women’s rights, but on doctors’ judgment, entrenching suspicion of those who work in abortion clinics.
It would have dragged society back to the days of the Franco dictatorship, when there was no right to abortion. Wealthy women could travel abroad for the procedure, while everyone else had to face the risk of illegal backstreet clinics.
The abandonment of the bill shows how a movement on the streets can force even a vicious right wing majority government to retreat.
But the government has pledged it will still seek to restrict the current law by making 16 and 17 year olds get permission from their parents before an abortion. The fight to defend — and extend — reproductive rights will continue.