Spain’s current legislation on abortion has been in effect for three years. The 2010 law on how late it can be carried out is under appeal in the Constitutional Court, at the initiative of the conservative ruling People’s Party, and the justice minister has spoken about reverting to a previous law which would not mention cases of malformation of the foetus.
Carlos Marlasca compiled this report, which includes interviews with Doctor Pérez-Pedregosa, a prenatal specialist, and a mother who shared some of her direct personal experience of the law with us: Madrid lawyer Carolina Barelles, 37. She has a fourteen-month-old daughter.
When she was pregnant a second time, things went differently for Carolina; she was one of three percent of cases in Spain in 2011 of people having abortions after the fourteenth week of pregnancy.
Barelles told euronews: “I was at week 12 when I had the first major ultrasound scan, and something wrong showed up in my baby’s bladder. Then, for the next five weeks, my baby’s condition got worse, spreading into the kidneys and the lungs. Then I didn’t have any amniotic fluid left. This made the outlook really hard, not good at all.
“I kept hoping that everything was going to be all right, and that what was blocking the bladder of my foetus would disappear. So, I waited till the last minute. I took the decision in the 16th week. If the law had not allowed an abortion after the 16th week, I would have had to decide earlier.”
Now expecting again, Carolina is a Catholic who voted for the People’s Party. She says the choice to end her second pregnancy was very difficult for her, and not one she ever thought she would have to make; she thinks the law should stay as it is.
Barelles said: “I think women should always have the right to decide during a defined number of weeks, after which, as in my case, we must support the right to live.”
The law provides for later abortions if a foetus is developing with any malformation. But an association that defends people with disabilities (CERMI) – while it takes no position on abortion – sees basing the extension of the period during which an abortion may be performed legally on the word ‘malformation’ as discriminatory.
The association’s president, Luis Cayo Pérez Bueno, told Marlasca: “Spain’s law of 2010 extends from 14 to 22 weeks the allowable time to perform an abortion. It doesn’t use the word ‘disabled’ but another word that suggests disabled. This is unequal treatment, unfavourable based on a disability, even if the law, because that would be politically incorrect, doesn’t say ‘disability. That’s what we’re against.”
Marlasca also arranged for us to speak with a gynaecological specialist in maternal-foetal medicine, the director of the ultrasound and prenatal diagnostic unit at the Sanitas La Moraleja Hospital in Madrid.
Beatriz Beiras, euronews: “Javier Pérez-Pedregosa, in your daily practice you deal with pregnant women who come to you with serious malformations of the foetus. When can you tell that the foetus won’t live outside the uterus, and what do you do in a case like that?”
Dr Javier Pérez-Pedregosa: “It’s possible, but not always straightforward, to diagnose the malformation of the foetus when this is very serious or when we have a foetal anomaly that is incompatible with life. With the means at our disposal today we can make this diagnosis to a high degree of certainty.”
euronews: “The law in Spain today concerning the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy, the so-called Zapatero law of 2010… is it possible for a woman today, with sound scientific support putting her mind at rest, to resolve a malformation, or is this law allow too much?”
Pérez-Pedregosa: “In my opinion and that of many prenatal diagnostics experts, which we have expressed several times… We don’t think the law is too lax, but rather that it offers a solution for situations that come up. What the law changed fundamentally is the possibility when there are malformations of interrupting gestation after the 22nd week, but always in two very specific situations. When a foetus has been diagnosed as unable to live, this is generally clear, and the diagnosis has been done late, for various reasons, such as due to progression of an illness or because of the technical means we have. When there is a very serious and incurable illness, a clinical committee has to decide on the difficulties.”
euronews: “The current law allows an abortion after 22 weeks in some cases of serious malformations. How is a decision taken then, and by whom?”
Pérez-Pedregosa: “Three specialists in maternal-foetal, paediatric and neonatal medicine form a committee, appointed in each of Spain’s autonomous regions. They decide case-by-case whatever is presented to them, with, in my opinion a great deal of scientific rigour, taking all elements into account – not only the couple but also the unborn child, the foetus, the conceived but not yet born.”
euronews: “The Spanish minister of justice, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, has said that he would remove the malformation provision from the new law he is preparing, and then said he would keep it in some cases. Is is scientifically possible to keep the malformation clause in the law?”
Pérez-Pedregosa: “It’s possible but very complicated, since in medicine we always talk about sick people and those who aren’t sick. Cases very often are very different;a foetus with a heart malformation may evolve very differently from another foetus which appears to have the same. Sometimes there can be a combination of things. It seems very complicated to us to create a law; there will definitely be a lot of cases that are not thought about.”
euronews: “Can you think of a case, obviously without naming anyone, where the problem was solved under the current law, where you think the one that we had before couldn’t have helped?”
Pérez-Pedregosa: “Yes, we have cases, with names. The new law, of 2010, let us convince the parents more or less, while explaining it would be good to evaluate the foetus a few weeks later. That new evaluation lets us see that the malformation was still there, but that it hadn’t got worse, and that let us continue with the pregnancy. There are children who have been born thanks to this possibility to wait past the 22nd week before a decision is made – a decision which is hasty, in our opinion.”