Spanish protest

Protesters hold placards saying "I decide" and "legal abortion" outside the ruling Popular Party's headquarters in Madrid. (Dani Pozo / AFP/Getty Images / December 20, 2013)

MADRID -- In a move denounced by abortion-rights advocates, Spain's conservative government Friday approved an abortion bill that would outlaw the procedure except in cases of rape, "lasting harm" to the health of the mother or fetal deformities "incompatible with life."

To request an abortion, a woman would need the approval of two doctors outside the clinic treating her and would have to observe a seven-day reflection period. Girls younger than 18 would need their parents' permission and would need to be accompanied by their parents to request an abortion.

The bill, unveiled by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon after a Cabinet meeting Friday, must still pass parliament to become law. But the ruling Popular Party holds a majority, so approval is virtually assured.

Since 2010, abortion has been legal in Spain, without restriction, until the 14th week of pregnancy, or until the 22nd week in cases of any fetal deformity. Parental permission is required only for girls younger than 16.

The changes proposed Friday would turn back the clock to the 1970s and '80s when Spain was emerging from a fascist dictatorship in which abortion was illegal, said Luis Enrique Sanchez, president of Spain's Planned Parenthood Federation.

"Many women will be packing their bags once again for those weekend charter flights to France and England," which have more liberal abortion laws, Sanchez said. "It's a dramatic situation that will create much pain and suffering."

Spain legalized abortion in 1985 under very limited conditions. In 2010, the then-Socialist-led government expanded access to abortion.

Ruiz-Gallardon, the justice minister, said the definition of "lasting harm" to the health of the mother could be either physical or psychological.

The proposed changes uphold "both the protection of life of the unborn and women's rights," he told reporters. "We always act in the interests of the woman."

But the bill has been assailed by opposition parties and women's groups.

According to a poll published before Friday's announcement, 46% of respondents said they want to maintain the current abortion law; 41% said they favor stricter limits.

The Popular Party, which regularly sides with the Roman Catholic Church on social issues, also lodged a judicial appeal to try to overturn Spain's 2005 gay-marriage law. Spanish courts have repeatedly upheld the law.

[Updated, 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20: This post has been updated to note that girls younger than 18 must be accompanied by their parents to request an abortion.]

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Frayer is a special correspondent.