Spain criminalizes pro-life witness near abortion clinics

People praying at abortion clinic Credit Diocese of Saginaw CC BY ND 20 CNA People praying at an abortion clinic. | Diocese of Saginaw, CC BY ND 2.0.

Spain’s Senate voted Wednesday in favor of a bill amending the country’s penal code to criminalize “harassment” of women entering abortion clinics.

The bill was passed without any changes April 6 by a vote of 154-105. It had already been approved by the Congress of Deputies in February. The law will go into effect when it is published in the Official State Bulletin, which is expected this weekend.

The measure was introduced in May 2021 by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party’s coalition. It will criminalize "harassing women going to clinics for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy." Anyone promoting, favoring, or participating in demonstrations near abortion clinics will be subject to penalties.

Penalties for what is deemed harassment include jail terms of three months to a year, or community service from 31 to 80 days. Depending on circumstances, an individual can also be barred from a particular location for between six months and three years.

The People’s Party, Vox, and the Navarrese People's Union opposed the measure, and had presented two veto proposals that were rejected by the Senate’s Justice Committee March 14. 

Vox representatives have stated on several occasions that when the law is published in the Official State Bulletin they will take it to the Constitutional Court on the grounds it violates the fundamental rights of expression and assembly. The People’s Party is also considering supporting this course of action.

Jacobo González-Robatto, a Vox senator, said that this law is “a clear example of the absolute manipulation of language” because “to abort is to kill, it’s to end the life of a human being.”

González-Robatto also pointed out that the action of those who are near abortion clinics "consists solely and exclusively of the last chance for the mothers and their children."

Fernando de la Rosa, a People’s Party senator, said that this measure is "a legal aberration" and that the PSOE "is not impartially considering rights, but rather it's using the Penal Code as an instrument for the dissemination of its ideology and as a mechanism to single out people who don't think like you do."

Alberto Catalán, a Navarrese People's Union senator, said that this law aims to "criminalize the defense of life" and that in today's society it is easier to "provide death than life."

Bárbara Royo, a criminal lawyer, told El Debate newspaper that "it’s difficult to guess how those who demonstrate with a banner in front of an abortion center can be convicted because their presence is not against any specific woman, but against a practice that for them, because of their beliefs, their ideology or their religion is not admissible.”

“Not to mention how the fact that a mere police report without a prior complaint from the possible victim could serve as a reason to penalize; it eliminates the basic principle that for there to be a crime there must be a specific victim, in this case a woman, who is the identifiable target of the coercion” the lawyer pointed out.

In the exposition of motives for introducing the bill, the PSOE characterized the “harassment” of pro-life witness at abortion clinics as “approaching women with photographs, model fetuses, and proclamations against abortion … the objective is for the women to change their decision through coercion, intimidation, and harassment.”

The socialist parliamentary group said it “considers it essential to guarantee a safety zone” around abortion clinics.

Under the bill, pro-lifers could be prosecuted without the aggrieved person or their legal representative being required to file a complaint.

Several locales have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion clinics that limit free speech in the protected areas.

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