Spanish clinics allege ‘witch-hunt’ against abortion


Madrid : A 31-year-old Spanish woman was bathing her children in her Madrid home when police showed up on her doorstep.

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“You had an abortion in February 2007,” the officers said, handing her an invitation to be questioned as a witness at a police station investigating alleged irregularities at the Clinic Isadora, which terminated her pregnancy.

“You need to understand that there is a great social alarm over the subject of abortion,” the officers said to justify why they came personally to bring a document which should normally have been sent by the mail.

“They made me feel I had done something horrible,” the woman told the daily El Pais.

A total of 25 women have been called to be interrogated about abortions at the Clinic Isadora in what abortion clinics regard as another sign of a growing “witch hunt” against them.

“This is political persecution by sectors opposing the rights of women within the Catholic Church, the (conservative opposition) People’s Party (PP), pro-life groups, and the far right,” says Marisa Castro of the Clinic Isadora.

Conservative groups, on their side, accuse the clinics of having turned abortion into a business and Spain into a “Mecca” of foreign “abortion tourists” who come in for late abortions not allowed in their own countries.

“Abortion is legally a crime, but in practice, it is freer than in other European countries with less restrictive abortion laws,” said Josep Miro of the Catholic organization E-Cristians.

About 100,000 women abort annually in Spain, nearly all of them at private clinics.

The overwhelming majority of abortions are carried out on the basis of a risk to the mother’s mental or physical health, in which cases the law allows abortion theoretically at any stage of pregnancy.

Abortion came under discussion when police raided a string of Barcelona clinics in November, detaining their director Carlos Morin and several employees over allegations that the clinics performed unjustified abortions even in the final months of pregnancy.

Irregularities had been alleged by a Danish journalist who came to one of clinics, pretending to want to abort at 26 weeks.

Recently, representatives of the Dutch judiciary came to Barcelona to interrogate Morin in jail over the case of a Dutch woman who faces murder charges for a late abortion allegedly performed in Spain.

“Nobody knows what goes on at abortion clinics, which are making a lot of money and which the authorities do not control properly,” Miro said in a telephone interview with the DPA.

Castro denied such charges, saying her clinic did not perform abortions at more than 22 weeks of pregnancy. Spanish abortion clinics do public health work, performing free abortions on women who do not have the money to pay for them, she told DPA.

Groups described as neo-Nazi or ultra-conservative have attacked Madrid clinics, smashing windows, spraying walls and threatening employees or clients.

Spanish abortion clinics staged an unprecedented strike last week in protest against the attacks and what they regard as an unjustified increase in administrative inspections.

In the case of the Clinic Isadora, a judge is investigating claims by a pro-life group that human remains found in the clinic’s garbage pointed to late abortions.

Castro dismisses the allegations as a “total lie,” stressing that an earlier investigation did not yield any evidence of irregularities.

The clinics and other abortion-rights advocates want the government to take abortion out of the legislative “grey area” by aligning the legislation with laws in force in many other European countries, which allow women to abort in the first months without giving a reason for the procedure.

That would also make abortion cheaper by bringing it under the responsibility of the public health sector.

Groups like E-Cristians, on the other hand, stress the need to apply the law more strictly and to help women have unplanned children.

The anti-abortion stance of the Catholic Church still represents a significant sector of the Spanish population, Miro claimed. While around 80 percent of Spaniards define themselves as Catholics, less than 20 percent of the Catholics are estimated to attend mass regularly.

The anti-abortion campaign coincided with an escalating confrontation between the Socialist government and conservative bishops, who accuse Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of undermining human rights with reforms such as homosexual marriage and fast-track divorce.

Two months before the general elections, the government has backtracked on its plans to liberalize abortion in a fight for Catholic votes against the PP, which announced plans to create a ministry to defend the family.