"Doublethink": the latest threat to women's rights in Spain

George Orwell’s “1984” is alive and well in Spain as the Minister for Justice talks- up plans to deny women the right to an abortion, says Liz Cooper

Liz Cooper
18 June 2013

Spain has recently achieved some notoriety as the European country with over 1000 political figures awaiting processing and trial on charges of corruption, according to the New York Times, with even members of the Royal Family said to be involved. A more unusual and unexpected scenario is the recent discovery that the Princess Leticia, wife of the heir to the Spanish throne, may be guilty of committing a “thought-crime”.  On opening an International Conference to debate Language and Journalism, earlier this year  the Princess commented on language currently in use to discuss the financial and political crisis in her country and suggested it should be seen as a form of “Newspeak” (“ Neolengua”). She pointed out that “the crisis has its own language and its use may be intentional, because it is not the same to say assistance rather than rescue, negative growth instead of recession, or restructuring in place of cuts” (English translation). She hoped the Conference would create clear guidelines vis-à-vis the language of the crisis “that would be acceptable to the public whether journalists or not”. Leticia Ortiz was a journalist before giving up her profession to join the royal family. She seems to have read George Orwell’s “1984” and understood its concepts of “Doublethink”, for example “War is Peace”; “Newspeak”, a vocabulary under government control; “Thought-crime”, the act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party.

The Spanish “Thought Police”, better known as the extreme right-wing media, have so far shown little interest in her remarks which is surprising as her target might easily have been the current Government campaign to change the 2010 abortion law, brought in by the previous Socialist Government.  In the run up to the 2011 general election the leader of the “Partido Popular” (PP) Mariano Rajoy committed his party to changing the 2010 law, once in government. One of the last pieces of legislation by the socialist Government of Zapatero was a new law on reproductive rights, which states a woman’s right to an abortion on demand up to 14 weeks, and up to 22 weeks if there is serious risk to the life and health of the mother or the foetus, in line with many other European countries. After 22 weeks an abortion can be performed if the foetus is suffering from an extremely serious or incurable condition.  It was the first time the right of a woman to an abortion on demand was written-in to the law in Spain. The previous law of 1985, unchanged until 2010,  allowed the interruption of a pregnancy up to 12 weeks in the case of rape, up to 22 weeks due to malformation of the foetus, and at any time if it could be shown that to continue would be a danger to the mother’s mental or physical health.  A woman’s right to choose abortion was excluded.

The Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, known to be on the extreme right of the PP, is on the campaign trail and has stated frequently that he intends to change the law, and in particular is questioning the ethics of aborting a malformed foetus. He has made dozens of statements on television, in interviews and in Parliament, beginning with claims that his politics are based on the protection of the weakest, including the “no nacido”, (not born). He claims the new law restricting abortion will be in defence of a woman’s right to give birth. The Minister insists that the law will be based on the right of a woman to be a mother and will ensure that she never has to renounce those rights. He says the new law will increase the protection of reproductive rights, maternity being the most important of these rights. He has confirmed that no longer will women who have abortions be at risk of being sent to prison because the woman is not responsible for the abortion, she is the victim.  The Minister had already announced in March last year that “the freedom to be mothers makes women authentic women”.  During a session in Parliament the Minister said he believed that often women are victims of gender violence for no reason other than that of being pregnant.  In a question-time in Parliament, when answering a member of the opposition, the Minister for Justice said that many women find their rights to be mothers violated by pressure from certain organizations (un-named) that in the event of an unwanted pregnancy make the woman uniquely responsible for the decision (to abort).  It is difficult to make sense of his words.  If this is not doublethink, talking of the right to give birth rather than the right to choose abortion, it can surely only be described as gobbledegook.

The Minister of Justice claims to have a mandate to change the 2010 law, whereas in fact the latest polls by Metroscopia for El País,  show that 46% of the Spanish would prefer to leave the current law alone, and 41% are in favour of a return to a law of 1985. The most recent demonstration in favour of keeping the 2010 law drew over 1000 people who surrounded the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia protesting against the influence of “reactionary” elements of the Church against the rights of women. The head of Spain’s Catholic Church, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, has called for an “urgent reform” of the 2010 law, which he said had “led to a rise in the number of abortions to terrifying levels”. The statistics from the Ministry of Health do not support his statement.

The campaign itself is unusual not only in its Orwellian use of language. The Government has an absolute majority and can push through any law, making the campaign unnecessary unless the Minister is trying to increase his right-wing profile with an eye to the future, deflect interest in the current corruption charges largely aimed at his party, or impress the Church. The campaign has however shown that the party itself is not whole heartedly behind the plans to prohibit the abortion of a malformed foetus. Rows have developed between the less extreme members of PP and those who favour the moral stance of the Church and Opus Dei.

The content of the new law is unlikely to entirely satisfy the Church, who presumably will continue their campaign against all abortion. It may go some way to making conservative voters happy as underneath all the doublethink the law is set to demolish the right of a woman to an abortion on demand, and is a severe blow to women’s hard-fought rights that are in real danger under this increasingly authoritarian, backward-looking and misogynist Government.








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