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Spain has criminalized the harassment or intimidation of women who have abortions under new legislation approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

The ruling, which involves changes to the criminal code, means anti-abortion activists who try to convince women not to terminate their pregnancies could face up to a year behind bars.

The measure was proposed by the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and will come into force after being published in the official state bulletin in the coming days.

Anyone who tries to “hinder [a woman] to exercise her right to voluntarily terminate her pregnancy” by “embarrassing, offensive, intimidating or threatening acts” will be punishable by a prison sentence of three to 12 months, or community service, indicates the text .

In practice, the law criminalizes protests outside abortion clinics. The prohibition also applies to harassment or intimidation of health professionals working in abortion clinics.

Spain, resolutely Catholic, decriminalized abortion in 1985 in the event of rape, if a fetus is malformed or if childbirth presents a serious physical or psychological risk for the mother.

The scope of the law was expanded in 2010 to allow abortion on demand within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite this, Spanish women still face obstacles, with “most” public-sector obstetrician-gynecologists refusing to perform such procedures, the doctors’ association Organización Médica Colegial (OMC) said.

When visiting a private clinic, women are sometimes confronted by anti-abortion activists who try to persuade them not to terminate their pregnancies.

As the legislation was debated, anti-abortion activists from the Right to Life platform rallied outside the Senate against the “criminalization” of their protests.

“Praying is not a crime and we will continue to pray and offer our help to all those women who need it so they can see that abortion is not the only solution,” the door-to-be said. Inmaculada Fernández speak in a statement.

According to a 2018 study by ACAI, which represents abortion clinics, 89% of Spanish women said they felt harassed when they went to an abortion clinic, and 66% said they felt harassed. feel threatened.

Sánchez’s government is also working on a law guaranteeing that all public hospitals will offer abortions, and on new legislation that will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to end a pregnancy without their parents’ permission, as they can currently in the UK and France.

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