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Spanish Parliament approves abortion bill, sends to Senate

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
Opponents of the abortion bill protest at a demonstration in Madrid on October 7, 2009.
Opponents of the abortion bill protest at a demonstration in Madrid on October 7, 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Abortion decriminalized in Spain, but only in matters of rape, or when the health of child or mother at risk
  • Roman Catholic Church staunchly opponesed of bill
  • Bill will now make its way to the Senate for passage
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Madrid, Spain, (CNN) -- The Spanish Parliament approved a controversial bill on Thursday to make it easier to get an abortion in Spain, and sent it to the Senate.

The ruling Socialists and smaller-party allies amassed 184 votes against 158 from the main opposition conservative Popular Party and its allies.

Since 1985, abortion has been decriminalized in Spain, but only in matters of rape, or when the health of the child or mother is at risk.

Abortions have doubled in the past decade in the traditionally Roman Catholic country, from nearly 54,000 in 1998 to 112,000 in 2007, the most recent year for available data, according to Spain's Ministry of Health.

The Roman Catholic church here and the main opposition conservative Popular Party have blasted the government's bill to make it easier to get an abortion and give it legal backing.

The bill would permit abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy, with few questions asked. But the most controversial section, according to many politicians and analysts, was a Socialist proposal to permit abortions for 16-year-olds without prior consent from their parents.

In recent negotiations to win enough votes, the Socialists agreed to soften that proposal. The version approved on Thursday would require 16 year-olds to get prior consent from their parents, unless such notification is reasonably considered to create a potentially violent conflict within the family.

Tens of thousands of people marched last October in Madrid against the abortion bill, under the theme "each life is important." Many leading conservative politicians attended, including former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

They say the proposed law throws open the door to more abortions. A protest organizer, Benigno Blanco, told the crowd "this debate won't end until there's not a single abortion." Blanco was a senior official in Aznar's government.

But the bill's supporters say the abortion measures are part of a broader national strategy on sexual and reproductive health, including education and access to contraceptives, which aims to prevent unwanted pregnancies in Spain.

The Socialists have called the conservatives "hypocritical," accusing them of doing nothing to completely outlaw abortion during their eight years in power from 1996 to 2004.