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The King and the Socialist Abortion Law

Marian Horvat, Ph.D.

On March 5, King Juan Carlos as the Spanish Chief of State signed the new abortion bill approved by the Parliament - putting today's Spain right in step with the socialist abortion policies of the rest of the European Union. More than 60,000 people had asked the King to veto the bill, but last Wednesday he approved it, and it was published in the Official State Bulletin. In four months, that is, on July 5, it will go into effect.

King Juan Carlos signing an abortion law

His signature made the law official
This new abortion law allows any woman age 18 or over to have an abortion without restrictions up to 14 weeks of a pregnancy. Abortions are permitted up to 22 weeks (5 1/2 months) if two doctors certify there is serious threat to the health of the mother or a "fetal malformation." Beyond 22 weeks, abortions are still allowed so long as doctors certify the baby has a malformation "incompatible with life" or an incurable disease.

An amendment was added that girls ages 16 or 17 must inform their families if they decide to have an abortion - unless they face "a clear risk of violence, threats, pressure or mistreatment." This provision of informing the families is hypocritical, because the "unless" renders it meaningless. Indeed, since any girl can claim she runs a risk of being threatened or pressured, the bill in practice allows 16-year-olds to have government-funded abortions without parental consent.

Further, the National Health System must guarantee the availability of the latest contraceptives - also provided by public financing - and imposes sexual education classes in all schools.

The painful process

Flashing back, this is what happened. In 1985 the Spanish Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez passed the country's first law to provide abortions in cases of rape or when a woman's life or psychological health was in danger. We all know what those loopholes signify. The "psychological health" excuse became the basis for approximately 97% of Spain's abortions, which have come to number more than 100,000 a year.

In 2007, in face of increasing abuses of the "psychological health" clause, secular pro-life organizations and media entered the battle against abortion. They revealed that abortion clinics were paying psychologists to produce the needed diagnoses for their abortions, including late term ones. There was a call to stop the abuses by effective law enforcement. (In theory, this law stipulated women could go to prison for having abortions outside the set conditions.)

The response by the majority Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) was to propose a new law that allows abortion on demand. Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero jumped on board, proclaiming the government was saving Spanish women from the backwards, barbaric situation of facing imprisonment for having an abortion.

And so, the conservative effort to close the door to loopholes boomeranged: Instead of making abortions harder to get, Zapatero's party simply proposed a new law that opened the door wider - making virtually all abortions legal.

The Parliament approves the bill

Leaders of secular-led pro-life groups responded vigorously. Over the past year mammoth demonstrations were held across the country - including one in Madrid that exceeded 100,000 people - to protest abortion generally, this law specifically.

A massive anti-abortion protest, Madrid 2009

Hundreds of thousands protest the abortion bill, Madrid, October 2009
Young and old, men and women took to the streets under slogans like "There is no right to kill. There is the right to life." Over a thousand scientists, doctors and academics signed a petition denouncing the bill. Polls showed a plurality of Spanish women and men oppose the new law.

As the law was being debated, Spain's Bishops made a statement in November 2009 that Catholic members of Parliament who voted to liberalize abortion would place themselves outside the Church and should not receive Communion. I believe the politicians knew the threat had no claws. I could find no reports of pro-abortion Spanish Catholic politicians being refused Communion. The lower House passed the abortion legislation in December 2009, and the Senate approved it late February.

The only thing missing for the bill to become law was the signature of King Juan Carlos, a Catholic at least in name. Article 91 of the Spanish Constitution requires the King to sign legislation passed by the Parliament within 15 days. It is important to note, however, that no mechanism exists to force the King to do so. He could have refused.

Bishops excuse the King's signature

As the law was being debated in Senate, pressure was applied to stop the King's signature. An Internet petition pleaded with him to follow his Catholic principles and not sign the bill. It argued that even a King cannot violate principles of fundamental ethics and sign a law approving the right of a few to kill other human beings.

March for life, Madrid 2010

March 2010 - Another protest in Madrid after the King's approval
"With this law, the government is de facto destroying the validity of the Spanish Constitution, which stipulates in its Article 15 the right to life," the petition stated, calling on the King either to refuse to sign or to abdicate in imitation of King Baudouin of Belgium, who in 1990 temporarily renounced his throne rather than sign this country's law allowing abortion (LifeSiteNews.com, February 10, 2010).

One day after the Senate approved the law, the Spanish Bishops met and qualified the new law as "sad, grave and in final analysis, a very serious destruction of the common good." At the same time, however, they announced that the King would not suffer any Church penalties for signing the new law. Since the King was required by the Constitution to sign any law, episcopal spokesman Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez affirmed, it was a "unique situation" and any general principle could not be applied."It is different to sanction the law than to vote on it," he said (CNS online, February 26, 2010).

Of course, it was an excuse for the King to sign, which he did on March 5, 2010.

The sun sets on the Church in Spain

This is far from the first time the King has signed legislation opposed to Church teaching. In fact, Juan Carlos, who was enthroned in 1975, was groomed for his position by Franco. It was Franco who already had established an agreement with Paul VI that Spain would follow the strict position of separation of Church and State. Juan Carlos - a close friend of that Pope - most faithfully has followed that policy.

Benedict XVI and Zapatero, 2006

Benedict and Socialist Zapatero, Spain 2006
To make Spain "enter modern Europe" King Juan Carlos legalized the Socialist and Communist parties. In 1985 he complacently authorized the country's first abortion bill. In 2005 he sanctioned gay marriage. "I am not the King of Belgium," he said to protesters. Then, as now, no ecclesiastical sanctions were forthcoming.

How much of this victory of the partisans of Socialism in Spain is due to the inaction of the Catholic Hierarchy? Much, I believe, very much. Unlike in the United States, the Spanish Bishops used to play a strong role in society, exerting its proper moral influence on the political life of the country. Their voices and power have been waning for some years now. After this vote, some media are asking if the sun has set on the Catholic Church in Spain.

Petition for an excommunication

Ironically, the same Bishops' Conference that did not penalize the King for his signature, is now calling for the country's new law on abortion to "be abolished as soon as possible" (Catholic News Agency, March 15, 2020). The reaction of the people is more authentic. Thousands of pro-life demonstrators once again filled the streets of cities throughout Spain to contest the new law.

The website Radio Cristiandad has posted a formal petition signed by Mr. Fernando Santos asking Benedict XVI to excommunicate Juan Carlos. Based on Canon 915, the petition states that Juan Carlos has incurred a latae sententiae excommunication, as his action directly resulted in the enactment of this gravely immoral expansion of abortion. Canon 915 restricts individuals who have participated in "manifest grave sin" from receiving Holy Communion. This petition is a laudable initiative that I am pleased to report here.

Basing present actions on past ones, however, it is not difficult to predict that this petition will not be heeded. There may well be words from the Vatican, but not action. When Benedict visited Spain in 2006, at a Mass in Valencia he said some words against sweeping secularism, but cordially greeted Socialist Prime Minister Zapatero. In December 2009, he sent a "message of support" to Catholics rallying in Madrid protesting Spain's legislation on "gay marriage" and "fast-track divorce," but took no measures to bring to account the Catholic legislators who approved them. Those were words, not action, the typical post-Vatican II response.

So, the conclusion of this story is another betrayal by both the temporal and spiritual leaderships. I hope the day will come when lay Catholics and monarchists in Spain will have the courage to face this reality and act according to it. Spain used to be the land of acumen and courage…

Posted March 17, 2010

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