Bernat Soria, the Spanish Minister of Health and Consumption, said on March 17 that the Catholic bishops of his country are on “a different road than society”, while he asserted that the national debate over abortion “took place twenty years ago.” He made the statement while at a conference sponsored by Spain’s National Health System, referring to the current debate over abortion in Spain.
Soria said he hopes that in Spain “laws will be adopted that are similar to those of the countries which we are constantly saying we want to resemble” elsewhere in Europe. At the same time, Soria denied that any contemplated reform of the current law would violate the conscience of physicians faced with the prospect of performing a voluntary abortion. “Over the last twenty years, I know of no health professional who has had any problems due to objections” to the procedure, said Soria.
In Spain abortion was decriminalized in 1985 but is offered only under restricted circumstances and rarely in a public hospital. Terminations are only allowed until the 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape or until the 22nd week in cases of severe fetal malformation. In 2008, some 25 women and doctors were arrested in raids on abortion clinics in Madrid accused of falsifying doctors' certificates. The raids sparked a nationwide strike by the clinics, and forced the government to fast-track the new legislation. Legislation circulating in the nation’s Congress and promoted by the Socialist government would further liberalize abortion and put the government at loggerheads with the Church. Since coming to power in 2004, Spanish premier José Rodriguez Zapatero and his socialist government have legalised gay marriage, eased divorce laws and dropped religious education from the curriculum in public schools, all measures which have deeply angered Church leaders.
José Antonio Alonso, spokesman for the Socialist Party, denounced the Catholic Church for supposedly wanting to “jail women who have to interrupt voluntarily their pregnancy. For its part, said Alonso, the Socialist Party does not want to jail women for “often dramatic reasons” to terminate their pregnancy. “No woman likes to abort, but for doing so she should not be imprisoned.”
Another representative of the Spanish Left, Iñigo Urkullu of the Basque Nationalist Party said that the Catholic Church’s campaign to limit abortion is both “extremist and populist.” Said Urukullu, “everyone is entitled to an opinion, and concepts about life, about this fundamental right, but the kind of arguments put out by the Church are extremist and out of line.”
The spokesperson for the Popular Party of Spain, Soraya Saénz de Santamaria – a member of the Congress – said that her party “respects” the Church’s campaign while she did not actually endorse it. The Popular Party, while some Spanish pundits and the Socialist Party have paired it with the Catholic Church, has had positions at odds with the teachings of the Church on abortion and euthanasia. Sáenz de Santamaira reminded the Socialists, however, that even the Church “has every right in the world to express its opinion” on abortion. She called on the Socialist government not to “change laws frivolously, without finding consensus” on the controversial issue.
Saénz de Santamaria said that her party opposes the proferred reform of abortion laws and affirmed that it is “radically against” allowing girls aged 16 or 17 to have abortions without parental consent. She said that a girl of 16 should have an abortion at an age when she cannot vote nor have a body piercing without parental consent.
The Spanish Conference of Bishops has launched a campaign under the motto “Protect my life!” throughout the country. Billboards, pamphlets, and other media are being used to get out the message that, for example, the life of the endangered Spanish lynx is currently safer than that of a human fetus.
In February 2009, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone met with representatives of the Socialist government to oppose the liberalization Spain’s abortion laws. Said Cardinal Bertone "I tried to make them understand that it is necessary to restrict and not expand abortion." For his part, Monsignor Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, president of the Spanish Bishops Conference, has denounced the proposed law saying it targeted the defenceless. "The unborn don't vote," he said. "They don't organize." Regarding those who perform abortions, Martínez Camino said "They face automatic excommunication."