Spain appoints experts to liberalise abortion law

Thu Sep 4, 2008 6:55pm BST

MADRID, Sept 4 (Reuters) - The Spanish government has appointed a group of experts to advise on liberalising abortion law by the end of 2009 or early 2010, the equality minister said on Thursday.

"We can't have a situation where a woman who needs to terminate a pregnancy can have legal problems," Bibiana Aido said.

"That's why we need a serious, calm and high-level debate which contributes to the drawing up of the best law possible."

Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985, 10 years after the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, but while the number of abortions has doubled in the past decade, the practice is controversial in the traditionally Catholic country.

Abortion is permitted in certain cases, for example up to 12 weeks for women who have been raped or up to 22 weeks if a foetus is malformed. It is also available if a birth poses a psychological risk to the mother.

Aido did not give details of the change she wanted to the abortion law but said it would "guarantee the fundamental rights and legality of women and the professionals who attend them".

"It must guarantee geographical equality, so that there aren't differences between autonomous regions," she said.

Abortion came to the forefront of the political debate last year and in the run-up to the elections after a series of police raids on abortion clinics in Madrid and Barcelona.

Many clinics said they were being harassed by the authorities.

The group of eight experts who will advise the government on abortion include academics, gynaecologists and lawyers, as well as representatives from the Health and Justice Ministries and the prime minister's office.

Spain's conservative PP party criticised the move.

"It would seem to me serious that an issue as sensitive for women ... should be used today as a smokescreen to cover up the economic crisis," Esteban Gonzalez, a party spokesman, told public television.

The popularity of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has sunk to its lowest level as Spain's economy has slid close to recession in recent months, with the bursting of a housing bubble and unemployment jumping by 500,000 in a year. (Reporting by Emma Pinedo, writing by Sarah Morris)