FOCUS: How women in Spain face barriers despite abortion being legal

When Spanish doctor Marta Vigara was 17 weeks pregnant, her waters broke and she quickly realised the prognosis for her pregnancy was "very bad".

FOCUS: How women in Spain face barriers despite abortion being legal
Geriatric doctor Marta Vigara, who could not have a therapeutic abortion at the hospital where she works, poses at her home in Madrid on February 10, 2022. - Women in Spain still face obstacles when they choose to terminate a pregnancy even though abortion was decriminalised in 1985, a situation Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist government wants to change. No official statistics exist on how many objecting doctors exist in Spain. But according to the Spanish Doctors Order the "majority" of obstetrician-gynaecologists who work in the public sector are "conscientious objectors", a term coined by pacifists who refuse military service. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

A geriatric specialist working at Madrid’s Clínico San Carlos hospital, she immediately went to her colleagues in the gynaecology department to have a therapeutic abortion.

Such a procedure can be carried out when a woman’s life is in danger or the foetus has a severe abnormality.

But no doctor would do it on grounds there was still “a foetal heartbeat”, directing her to a private clinic instead.

“I arrived at the clinic bleeding, probably because of a detached placenta,” the 37-year-old told AFP at her Madrid apartment where she recounted the ordeal she lived through in December 2020.

Vigara later learnt that the entire gynaecology unit at Clinico San Carlos had declared themselves “conscientious objectors” against abortion.

Her experience illustrates how women in Spain still face obstacles when choosing to terminate a pregnancy even though abortion was decriminalised in 1985.

It’s a situation Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s leftist government wants to change.

There are no official statistics on how many doctors object to abortion in Spain.

But according to the OMC Spanish doctors’ association, “most” obstetrician-gynaecologists who work in the public sector are “conscientious objectors”, a term coined by pacifists who refuse military service.

That explains why 84.5 percent of abortions carried out in 2020 – the last available official figures – were done privately, with the state footing the bill.

In some regions, women travel hundreds of kilometres for an abortion because there is no private clinic nearby and the local hospital will not perform the procedure.

In eight of Spain’s 50 provinces, no abortion has been carried out since the procedure was decriminalised in 1985, the government says.

It is preparing a law to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals, with the issue set to be a central theme at Spain’s International Women’s Day marches on Tuesday.

Anti-abortion ‘ambulance’

Even when women can reach a private clinic, they are sometimes confronted by anti-abortion activists en route who pepper them with uncomfortable questions or prayers.

For the past decade, psychiatrist Jesus Poveda has gathered regularly with his team of “rescuers” outside the Dator private abortion clinic in Madrid to try and persuade women not to end their pregnancies.

A member (L) of “40 dias por la vida” (40 days for life), an international anti-abortion organisation that campaigns against abortion through prayer, speaks with a woman outside the Emece private hospital in Barcelona on October 28, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

They invite women to enter a van equipped with an ultrasound machine which they call an “ambulance” to show them that what they’re carrying “is a living being”, says Poveda, who teaches at Madrid’s Autonomous University.

A draft law that passed its first reading in Spain’s parliament in February will ban such protests outside abortion clinics as “harassment”.

“We will keep coming,” says Poveda, who has vowed to “get around the law” if it gets final approval, as expected.

The Catholic Association of Propagandists (ACdP) launched an ad campaign against the bill in January with posters in 33 cities reading: “Praying in front of abortion clinics is great.”

Dropping parental consent

Sanchez’s government also wants to modify the law so minors of 16 and 17 can terminate a pregnancy without their parents’ consent, as is the case in Britain and France.

These youngsters can decide for themselves whether to “undergo a life or death operation, yet parental consent is required to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy,” Equality Minister Irene Montero said last month.

Staunchly Catholic Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985 in cases of rape, if a foetus is malformed or if a birth poses a serious physical or psychological risk to the mother.

The scope of the law was broadened in 2010 by the previous socialist government to allow abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

But in 2015, a conservative Popular Party government tried to roll back the changes but had to back down in the face of strong public opposition.

Instead, it introduced the parental consent requirement for minors which exists in most European nations.

Vigara is hoping “things will change”.

“When they send you away (to a private clinic), you feel a bit stigmatised as if you’re doing something wrong. I felt very guilty and very miserable.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


How to change your surname after marriage or divorce in Spain

While it's not usual for Spaniards to change their last names when they get married, it is possible for foreigners who want to do so. These are the steps to follow and the requirements you have to meet.

How to change your surname after marriage or divorce in Spain

In Spain, it’s not a tradition for women to change their surnames when they get married. Spaniards typically have two surnames – their father’s surname, followed by their mother’s surname (although nowadays it can be the other way around). The couple’s children will take the first surname of their father and the first surname of their mother to create their own last name.

READ MORE: Why do Spaniards have two surnames?

But what if a foreigner gets married in Spain and wants to change their last name to that of their partner as per tradition in their own country?

Or how about if you already have your partner’s name, but you get divorced in Spain, and what to change your surname back to your maiden name? Can this be done?

The simple answer is yes, you can change your last name in Spain, but there are several rules and circumstances that you must meet.

READ ALSO – Civil union or marriage in Spain: which one is better?

Keep in mind that although it can be done, because it’s not a usual thing to do in Spain when you get married or divorced, the process is complicated and you may have to repeat a lot of the bureaucratic processes you did when you first arrived in Spain.

The conditions you must meet to change your surname are:

– You must have a legitimate reason for the change, you can’t just change your surname simply because you feel like it.

– The new surname must belong to the person requesting the change. For example, if you want to change your name because you divorced, you cannot just request a brand new surname, you will have to prove that your maiden name belonged to you and change it back to that or another family surname you can prove you have a connection to. 

– If you want to have two last names, then both these names can’t be from the same side of the family. For example, you can’t have two names from your father’s side of the family and none from your mother’s.

The change cannot be detrimental to third parties.

READ ALSO: Can non-residents or new arrivals get married in Spain?

There are, however, some exceptions to the rules above. These include:

– Spelling corrections – Sometimes it might be possible that your surname is spelt wrong due to an error on behalf of a parent or grandparent or the Civil Registrar who registered the name in the first place. In this case, you are allowed to change your name to the correct spelling.

– Gender violence – If you are a victim of gender violence, then you may change your surname without the above requirements being met. You need to prove it’s a case of protection and there have been legal proceedings involved.

– Offensive surnames – You may change your surname if you meet the rules above, unless it’s offensive or means that there will be a great inconvenience.

– Preservation of traditional Spanish surnames – While this won’t apply to foreigners, those who have very traditional Spanish surnames that are at risk of dying out, may not be allowed to change them, in order to keep these names alive.   

How do I change my last name in Spain?

– If you got married in Spain, you can change your surname by going to the Civil Registry office in your local area, within five days of the ceremony, requesting the name change. You must show them your marriage documents as proof. They will issue you with a marriage certificate with the new surname.

– If you were married abroad, you will have to get your marriage certificate translated into Spanish and apostilled in order for it to be recognised.

– Similarly, if you got divorced in Spain or abroad, you will need to show the official paperwork of your divorce and some proof of your maiden name (or your mother’s maiden name if you prefer).

This might sound simple, but this is only the first step, you will need to change your name on every single official document you have in Spain and abroad in your home country. This means it’s essentially like starting out again when you first moved here. 

– The next most important thing to do is to get your surname changed on your passport. You will do this by contacting the authorities in your home country. The process will be slightly different, depending on where you live.

– Once you have ID documents in your new surname, you’re ready to change all the documents you have in Spain. This means firstly applying for a new green residency card if you’re from the EU or a new TIE card if you’re from a third country. You will essentially have to go through the whole process again, showing your new passport, any financial or health requirements, as well as everything you needed to show the first time around.

READ ALSO: Is it better to do a joint or separate tax declaration if you’re a couple in Spain?

– You’ll also have to change your name on your padrón certificate from your local town hall or ayuntamiento – this may be needed in order to get your new residency cards.

– Remember, you’ll also need to change your name on your bank account, public or private health card, driving licence and at the social security office for tax purposes. You’ll need to visit each institution separately, showing them your new passport and Spanish residency card, stating your new surname. You may need to go through the whole process of applying for them again, so it could take some time.