Imprisonment of psychiatrists sparks debate

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The imprisonment of psychiatrists because of illegal abortions has sparked debate in Spain.

21 December 2007

BARCELONA - A Spanish judge on Thursday jailed two psychiatrists on charges of helping to carry out illegal abortions in a scandal which has sparked calls to liberalise the country's abortion legislation.

The psychiatrists are suspected of signing certificates falsely claiming that their clients' pregnancies endangered their mental health.

Five other employees of the same Barcelona chain of abortion clinics were released on bail or without conditions.

The head of the clinics is in custody on charges of performing illegal abortions on Spanish and foreign women in advanced stages of pregnancy for large sums of money.

Two Madrid abortion clinics have also been closed over alleged irregularities.

The Barcelona scandal has sparked calls to liberalise and simultaneously clarify Spain's 1985 abortion legislation, under which abortion is still theoretically a crime.

The law allows pregnancies to be terminated only in the cases of rape, in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; serious malformation of the foetus, in the first 22 weeks; and danger to the mother's physical or mental health, with no time limit given.

Nearly all of Spain's abortions are carried out at private clinics under the provision of danger to the mother's health. The Barcelona clinics allegedly took advantage of the provision, performing abortions even in the final months of pregnancy.

Leftist critics say Spain needs a clearer abortion law, making abortion a public health service and adjusting legislation to reflect that in several other European Union countries, which allow women to abort in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without giving a reason for the procedure.

"Pro-life" activists have taken advantage of the recent scandals to attack the practice of abortion altogether, threatening and harassing some employees of Madrid abortion clinics.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government is in favour of modifying the law, but does not want to enter such a controversial debate three months before the general elections in March.

The opposition conservatives, who theoretically oppose abortion but did not modify the law while in government, have also kept a low profile, though Madrid abortion clinics have accused the local conservative authorities of pressuring them with unnecessary inspections.

Spain is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, though the church has steadily been losing influence on social issues such as premarital sex, contraception and abortion.

[Copyright dpa 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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