New Internationalist

Shut up, stay put – and have nice babies

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Spain’s new abortion law is just one more example of the government’s patriarchal, patronizing and hypocritical attitude, says Marian Womack.

Once upon a time, the Spanish government passed a law designed to help the severely disabled, the very old, and the chronically ill. The Ley de Dependencia gave the less fortunate some extra income to cover the costs of carers, nurses, extra medicines and medical services. My grandmother applied for help under this law, and was successful. Then – a very Spanish practice – she sat down to wait. She waited and waited. Her claim had been approved; the constant bureaucratic delays meant she died before receiving any money. And this was before the current government, which has now, of course, cut deeply into the provisions of this law.

Once upon a time, a friend decided to try her luck looking for work in a faraway land. But two days before Christmas this year the government decided to penalize her entrepreneurial spirit. Now, if a Spanish citizen goes abroad for more than three months, they shall be punished. How? By losing their right to medical treatment when they are back in their own country. This is the case even if you travel to an EU country. Who cares about freedom of movement for European citizens? Who cares if they are trying to find the employment their own government is incapable of creating?

Those two cautionary tales uncover a couple of truths about Spain: when a support system is in place, the bureaucratic labyrinth makes it possible not to benefit from it; and when there is a system in place that might work, a neoliberal government will come and tear it apart.

This all should be kept in mind if, as in my case, you are living in Spain and planning to have a baby. It is not a good time to get pregnant. To the débâcle that the Spanish National Health Service has become, one has to add one sorry aspect that is at the heart of the controversial abortion bill presented before Parliament: the interference of the Catholic lobby. The bill can be simply summarized: women lose the right to decide, they must put themselves in the hand of others, usually men; and if there is any serious problem with the unborn child, such as life-affecting foetal malformations, the pregnancy must still run to term. This under a government that is not prepared to help with the expenses caused by a lifetime of medical problems. The bill is basically an invitation for the poor to return to the economy of the backstreet clinic; no-one believes that the wealthy will not terminate their pregnancies, if they choose to do so, by travelling abroad and throwing cash at the problem.

The law is contradictory, with exceptions that don’t make sense. A rape that results in pregnancy is the only case where termination is permitted; this makes the claims of the right to life of the unborn morally suspicious. Severe disability and foetal abnormality is not a legitimate cause; however, if the child is born disabled, there is now no Ley de Dependencia to help his parents. This is Spain at its finest, upholding yet another Spanish tradition: that of making policy, and the bureaucracy that enforces it, so illogical that it appears to be promoting contradictory outcomes. Every Spaniard has met Kafka at least once.

Apart from when the pregnant woman has been raped, the only other time when abortion is not illegal is if there exists a ‘certifiable’ risk to the mother’s health, attested by three different doctors, from different clinics. This enforces patriarchal control: only once have I been seen by a female doctor. Things are changing, but the new young female doctors of my generation are not working yet, no-one is hiring them, and the gender gap will take years to be properly addressed. As far as my sexual health is concerned, I will have to be subject to the opinions of three men. Men I will need to find for myself, to get to agree to see me, and, presumably, pay. The current system does not allow for second opinions: you have one doctor, and no reason to see another. I wonder how, or if, they are planning to explain to the secretaries in clinics that we now can see doctors other than our GPs. This will be frowned upon; obstacles will be put in the way simply because it is more work, or because the paperwork does not exist.

There is a sense that citizens are under observation, their life choices constantly being judged. The abortion bill promotes this regression to being told what we can and cannot do. Meanwhile, those with the power to tell us how we must live also decide the level of support lesser beings such as ourselves do or do not deserve. Our rulers are patriarchal, patronizing and hypocritical, and they have a new maxim: stay healthy, stay in Spain, and conceive nice babies. That is all you need to do. At least no-one can claim that we are not told clearly what is expected of us.

Marian Womack tweets at @beekeepermadrid

Comments on Shut up, stay put – and have nice babies

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  1. #1 Isabel 10 Jan 14

    You are absolutely right, Marian. Depressing, especially for those who live abroad and now cannot even think of going back to their (our) country.

  2. #2 eleni_aus 10 Jan 14

    It makes a nonsense of the EU as an entity granting citizens cross border entry etc to have citizens of one country punished by losing social service / medical rights if/when they return from another after working there ... Are they trying to dissuade citizens from leaving? OR trying to dissuade those whose work ceases elsewhere from returning? (While of course permitting the working person to remit money to Spain to aid their families etc). Or is the government just introducing ANY measure to save money?
    But then there are so many contradictory messages here, and in the proposed introduction of increased restrictions on abortion - as the author points out. - a restriction on abortion will either lead to increasing illegal abortion and even backyard risks and subsequent medical requirements or an increased birthrate of children that parents will struggle to provide for in the current circumstances ... or both. Is the idea to stimulate the economy by having a greater population, a lower average age with more taxpayers - eventually?
    As to rape: the availability in the instance of rape can be seen as a concession to those who desire abortion to be available as this is often seen as the 'worst case' and the one most frequently cited by advocates for choice. And the one first conceded by governments and even in some instances by those who support the right to a chance for continued for a foetus. But ultimately it is an inconsistency in the argument, as the author points out ...
    CRUEL and HEARTLESS: are the only words for a situation where a government now removes a payment previously available for when a child was born disabled while simultaneously making it impossible for a prospective parent to have an abortion. It is a cruel punishment of the innocent child and the his/her family for being born). If a government wishes to save lives, it should also help make life liveable for those who will bear the greatest cost .... but then there is resentment expressed by some of having to share that burden by taxation - they should not be listened to if the true aim is a better life for the infants / children born with disabilities. (What happens with acquired disabilities? One fears no allowance either). The result will be horrific crimes, murder and suicide, and much, much suffering in the families (and especially by mothers who generally bear the greatest role and may also be abandoned) and of the children themselves and their siblings as more not less money is required by a family with a child with disabilities (medical, schooling etc).
    It sounds like Spain will become another Eire where the wealthy leave to have terminations and the poor don't .. or South Korea where it is officially legal but widely practised with an abortion rate among the highest in the world. But 3 doctors from 3 clinics seems rather onerous for many women (single or married, young or older) but is perhaps an 'over-correction' of the rubberstamping that can be known to exist and tolerated (certainly occurs here in Australia)...
    But the combination of measure described in the article are certainly contradictory and cruel.

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