Saturday, January 04, 2014

Society In Reverse: Spain's abortion reform

Strip away the religion and abortion remains an issue of morality and ethics. No one, or at least I assume no one, can ever suggest that it is an easy issue. It is not an issue which requires either men of religion (and it is of course men) or politicians to present the moral dilemma. But retain the religion and the issue is one of circumscribed moralism, of doctrinaire prescriptiveness that asserts the self-proclaimed moral authority of religion to dictate to secular society how it should think and behave. In addition, this religious assertiveness is embraced by zealous politicians eager to be bedfellows (no condoms allowed) in issuing dogma of scriptural correctness.

The reform of Spanish abortion law is the reaffirmation of the political-religious alliance of years past. It is regressive, a legislative move out of step with a changed society, which had been - the female members of it in particular - granted a greater liberalism in tune with progressive instincts of a modern Spain. But though religious doctrine is the philosophical basis for this reform, political dogma has provided the impetus. This is a reform which highlights the political divide in Spain, undoing as it does the relaxations on abortion introduced by the previous socialist government which operated according to its own dogma, one which was avowedly anti-clerical. It is a reform about the Catholic right-wing imposing its authority, regardless of changes that have occurred in society and regardless of medical opinion.

It was known that the Partido Popular government would enact the reform. It had after all filed actions against the Zapatero government's 2010 law, the one which had finally brought Spain more into line with much of Europe and which was viewed with horror by the Catholic Church, fearful of even more of its power evaporating. By removing the possibility of free choice to abort up to fourteen weeks, it is a reform which is more restrictive than that which had been in place before 2010. The Church may look upon it with delight, while the horror is on the faces of women, many health professionals and many in society who had believed that Spain had indeed thrown off the shackles of Catholic conservatism.

In theory, there could yet be amendments to the abortion bill, but in practice they are unlikely. Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón has ruled them out. However, he may just be moved to think again. Regional PP presidents - in Extremadura and Galicia - are among members of the PP who believe the reform goes too far.

These presidents, as well as city mayors, will be only too well aware of the potential damage that the reform could have. While the government has grappled with attempting to turn the economy around - its foremost concern - it has managed to undermine support for its austerity by engaging in legislation which casts it in a reactionary mould. To limits on protests can now be added abortion. The usual classification of the PP as "centre-right" (a questionable classification at the best of times) has been shown to be erroneous. This is a right-wing government and party, one that is displaying its historical roots. Regional presidents and mayors have every reason to be concerned that electorates will make them suffer.

Governments don't of course concentrate on single issues such as the economy. It is why they are governments. But there are times, and these are such times, when meddling in other issues appears counterproductive. It was Lord Palmerston who declared that "the function of government is to calm rather than to excite agitation." It is a reasonable maxim, but governments pay it little heed. Why enact something which will only serve to agitate an already agitated society?

In much the same way, the Balearic Government has been doing something similar with its law of symbols. It is a very different issue to abortion, granted, but would it not be a sign of wisdom to leave alone a matter which can only foment more agitation? In some respects, the attack on symbols, i.e. the Catalan flag, is far less wise than the national government's abortion reform, as it is a case of tilting at windmills. The Catalanist enemy within, if it exists, sits in a corner of Balearics society being paid little attention to. President Bauzá only succeeds in drawing the enemy into the centre of the room, all the time threatening his position and his attempts to take society with him along the course of righting economic woes.

There is a point at which political dogma and its consequent legislation become expressions of fanaticism. Abortion is most definitely not an easy issue. It is one for which there is arguably no right, only a wrong. So it becomes a question of the scale of the wrong and what drives it. When fanaticism takes the wheel and places society into reverse, only a wrong turn can be made.

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