In the Spanish region of Castilla y León, the introduction of a new disputed measure was announced which has the explicit aim of convincing pregnant women who want to voluntarily terminate their pregnancy not to have an abortion. The measure is actually a health protocol wanted by the far-right Vox party, which governs the region together with the i Popolari (PP, centre-right and conservative), whose position on the issue is still unclear. The protocol provides for the possibility of listening to the heartbeat of the fetus, doing a 4D ultrasound and receiving psychological counseling, all steps that in other countries have often been used to interfere with women’s choice to terminate a pregnancy.
The proposal of the protocol was made last week by the vice president of the region Juan García-Gallardo, of Vox: the protocol should have entered into force on January 16, but after many objections – among others by the national government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, the feminist movement and the Spanish association of gynecologists – has neither been published in the Official Gazette nor sent to hospitals in the region. For now, it is not known if and when it will come into force.
Announcing the new measure, García-Gallardo said he was directly inspired by the anti-abortion policies of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán. In September 2022, the Hungarian government had approved a decree which obliged health personnel involved in abortions to make women feel the heartbeat of the fetus, or more generally to show them a sign of vital functions in a clearly recognizable way . “I like what the Hungarian government is doing on the matter,” said Juan García-Gallardo, explaining that the new regional health protocol should oblige doctors to propose three new procedures to pregnant women who want to have an abortion (listening to the heartbeat of the fetus , 4D ultrasound, meeting with psychologists), but without obliging the women themselves to undergo it.
The proposal was immediately contested. The Spanish Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics has publicly denounced the protocol, arguing that it goes against national legislation on abortion. In turn, the Spanish government of Socialist Prime Minister Sánchez sent a communication to the junta of Castilla y León asking not to apply it and even threatening to take legal action. Health Minister Carolina Darias San Sebastián said she was ready to do everything possible to stop “that outrage” and to continue to defend the right of women to interrupt their pregnancies without any interference. Feminist movements had also intervened in the debate.
Meanwhile, Vox continued to defend the proposal, while for four days the president of the region, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, of the Popular Party, said nothing or commented on the protocol.
Fernández Mañueco finally spoke on Monday. The president of the region effectively denied what his vice president had announced, assuring that doctors would not be obliged or explicitly solicited to offer women unnecessary and unsolicited tests or procedures before an abortion: “Doctors will not be obliged nor do women who want to have an abortion do anything”. Mañueco specified that listening to the fetal heartbeat and 4D ultrasound would only be offered at the explicit request of the woman, not before.
After Mañueco’s words, the secretary general of Vox, Ignacio Garriga, argued that the president of the PP had not denied his vice president at all and that the protocol would be issued shortly with the original proposal announced. The situation is therefore rather confused.
The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia wrote today that the Spanish Council of Ministers, judging Mañueco’s denial insufficient and aware of the risk that a conservative and far-right government could try to limit the right to abortion, has decided to make the first step to raise a jurisdictional conflict against the junta of Castilla y León. The new protocol, if approved, could in other words violate the 2010 law on abortion, therefore come into conflict with a national law and therefore be inapplicable.
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