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Spain abortion bill clears parliamentary hurdle

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Abortion is decriminalized in Spain, but only in rape or medical issue
  • Abortions doubled in the past decade in traditionally Roman Catholic country
  • Chruch and opposition Conservatives are opposed to relaxing abortion laws

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- In its first major test in parliament, the Socialist government's bill to make it easier to get an abortion in Spain won enough backing Thursday to defeat amendments that would have totally blocked the proposed law.

The Socialists, with smaller-party allies, voted down the amendments, after an unexpected offer to negotiate the bill's most controversial point --- which would allow 16-year-olds to get an abortion without parental consent.

The bill now moves to committee for further scrutiny, and it may not face a vote to become law until early next spring.

Since 1985, abortion has been decriminalized in Spain, but only in matters of rape, or when the health of the child or mother is at risk.

Abortions have doubled in the past decade in the traditionally Roman Catholic country, from nearly 54,000 in 1998 to 112,000 in 2007, the most recent year for available data, according to Spain's Ministry of Health.

The Roman Catholic church here and the main opposition conservative Popular Party have blasted the government's bill to make it easier to get an abortion and give it legal backing.

The bill would permit abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy, with few questions asked, even allowing 16-year-olds to get an abortion without prior consent from their parents.

Equality Minister Bibiana Aido told parliament at the outset of the debate that the government, "conscious of the intense debate this measure has generated, will try to find common ground among the different proposals."

She added that the government is willing to negotiate the proposal allowing 16-year-olds to get an abortion without prior consent from their parents.

Tens of thousands of people marched last month in Madrid against the abortion bill, under the theme "each life is important." Many leading conservative politicians attended, including former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

They say the proposed law throws open the door to more abortions. A protest organizer, Benigno Blanco, told the crowd "this debate won't end until there's not a single abortion." Blanco was a senior official in Aznar's government.

But the bill's supporters say the abortion measures are part of a broader national strategy on sexual and reproductive health, including education and access to contraceptives, which aims to prevent unwanted pregnancies in Spain.

The Socialists have called the conservatives "hypocritical," accusing them of doing nothing to completely outlaw abortion during their eight years in power from 1996 to 2004.

 
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