Protesters in Spain demand suspension of abortion law

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Hundreds of people on Saturday staged a protest outside Spain's highest court to demand the suspension of a new more liberal abortion law, two days before it was to take effect.

The protesters, carrying placards reading "No to abortion, yes to life" and "Everyone has the right to life", gathered in front of the Constitutional Court building in Madrid in response to a call by around 60 anit-abortion groups.

They also chanted "25 years is enough," a reference to the decriminalisation of abortion in Spain in 1985.

The Socialist government's new abortion reforms -- which notably allow all women to end their pregnancies up until 14 weeks -- take effect on Monday.

But the Constitutional Court last Wednesday agreed to hear a challenge to the law from the conservative opposition Popular Party. It gave the government and the parliament three days to present their cases in favour of the reforms.

The PP has argued that the legislation violates an article of the constitution which recognises that "everyone has the right to life".

Equality Minister Bibiana Aido has said she had "no doubt" that the new law was "completely constitutional" and would take effect on schedule.

The legislation, also strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, was approved by parliament on February 24.

It allows abortion on demand up to the 14th week of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks if there is a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus has serious problems.

It is line with most of the country's European Union partners.

The initial draft of the new law allowed girls as young as 16 to terminate pregnancies without their parents' knowledge.

But the bill was watered down, and the amended text approved by parliament obliges minors aged 16 or 17 to inform their families of a decision to abort, except if they face "a clear risk of family violence, threats, pressure or mistreatment."

Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985, a decade after the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, but only in cases of rape, foetal malformation and when a pregnant woman's mental or physical health is deemed to be at risk.

Last year around 115,000 abortions were carried out in Spain, according to the health ministry.

The vast majority took place in private clinics and were justified on the grounds that the pregnancy posed a "psychological risk" for the health of the woman.

© 2010 AFP

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