January 8, 2008 / 4:45 PM / 12 years ago

Spanish abortion clinics strike over crackdown

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish abortion clinics began a week-long strike on Tuesday, criticizing the government for what they said was harassment since a series of police raids on Barcelona centers accused of illegal abortions.

More than 1,000 women will be unable to have an abortion this week after 31 private clinics shut their doors to all cases except for those when the mother’s health was at risk, said a spokeswoman for abortion clinic association ACAI. The 31 clinics performed most of Spain’s 101,592 abortions in 2006, ACAI said.

Late last year Barcelona police arrested 13 people, many of them gynecologists and anesthetists, in raids against clinics accused of performing illegal, late-term abortions.

ACAI spokeswoman Francisca Garcia said the government had increased intrusive inspections against its members even though none of its members were involved in the raids. Spain’s health minister had ignored requests for talks, she said.

Spain’s health ministry was not immediately available to comment on the accusation.

“We think the number and manner of inspections is abusive,” Garcia said, adding that so many inspections, three times the norm in some clinics, violated the privacy of patients and was a slur on the professionalism of staff.

Spain decriminalized abortion in 1985, 10 years after the death of conservative dictator Francisco Franco, but while the number of abortions has doubled in the last decade, the practice is controversial in the traditionally Catholic country.

Abortion is only permitted in certain cases, for example up to 12 weeks for women who have been raped or up to 22 weeks if a fetus is malformed. It is also available if a birth poses a psychological risk to the mother.

One of those detained in the raids was Peruvian doctor Carlos Morin, who was shown in a television program appearing to offer an abortion to an undercover Danish journalist who was eight months pregnant in return for 4,000 euros.

The police findings triggered indignation in conservative media.

But some members of the governing Socialist Party said abortion laws should be further liberalized. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, facing a tight contest in March general elections, rejected this.

Last month the windows of a clinic in Madrid were smashed by masked attackers and staff across Spain have reported a rise in threats against them, Garcia said.

“After 22 years of exercising this right a shadow of doubt has started to appear over our professionalism,” she said.

Reporting by Ben Harding; editing by Elizabeth Piper

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