Spain’s Constitutional Court’s Recent Decision Paves the Way for Further Advances in the Reproductive Justice Space

22 July, 2023


Written by Jovana Ríos Cisnero, Executive Director, Women’s Link Worldwide

The recent decision by Spain’s Constitutional court to affirm the right of women and gender-diverse people to access abortion on demand up to 14 weeks is a significant move towards greater freedom to choose whether to stay pregnant. It comes in the wake of 13 years of appeals by the conservative People’s Party (PP) which challenged the constitutionality of the country’s abortion law before the highest court. The ruling upholds Spain’s abortion law passed in 2010 by the Socialist Party (PSOE) which also allows abortion until 22 weeks if there is risk to the pregnant woman’s life or health or malformations. There have also been recent reforms (in 2023) allowing for abortion without parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds, a win for adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

This Constitutional Court decision exists in the same context as the case by Women on Web to unblock their Spanish site that was brought before court by Women’s Link. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the restrictions placed on movement and in-person interactions made medical care, including abortion care, difficult to obtain for millions around the world. Sites such as Women on Web, through their online services, were instrumental in bridging the gap for those seeking safe abortion during this time. However, Spain blocked Women on Web’s website, which acted as a key source of information on sexual health and reproductive rights for certain vulnerable groups. Among those unable to access reliable information on how to access an abortion were women living in poverty, rural, and migrant women who turned to Women on Web in search of information they could not find elsewhere. In 2021, Women’s Link filed a lawsuit demanding the unblocking of their website. The Spanish Supreme Court ruled in favor of Women on Web in October 2022.

At the heart of the case is the right to information, especially in a time when digital platforms form the primary site of information-seeking for those who require time-sensitive services such as abortion. When considered together, the Constitutional Court’s decision and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Women on Web case set the stage for increased access to safe self-managed abortions in the region and globally via abortion pills and to telemedicine for abortion. With reproductive rights under attack in Europe and other regions, Internet services allow informal groups and organizations to provide accurate, evidence-based, and easy-to-read information about abortion such as dosages for medical abortion, what to expect during the abortion process, or when to seek professional medical care. This type of information has proven crucial in contexts such as Poland, Uganda, the US, or Venezuela whose legal regimes highly restrict abortion. This therefore renders the decision to reinstate the Women on Web site precedent-setting across many jurisdictions.

At the beginning of July 2023 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Antonia Correa, a woman from the Murcia region of Spain who had been denied an abortion by her region’s health service and had therefore been forced to travel 400 kilometres to Madrid to be able to access her right to a safe abortion. The court asserted the constitutional guarantee to a safe abortion, disavowing the undue burden placed on Antonia, and many other women in Spain, in obtaining an abortion. The blocking of the Women on Web website is one such undue burden and should be viewed as a refusal on the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products’ (AEMPS) part to ensure access to a guaranteed right.

Despite these wins, the Women on Web site continues to be blocked in Spain. In the wake of the ruling, there now exists a tension between the decisions by two high courts (the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court) and the AEMPS which has been instrumental in the blocking of the Women on Web website. There is therefore an opportunity for the State to harmonise its policies with these judgements and restore access to this vital resource.

These progressive decisions by the Spanish courts come at a pivotal moment as states across the globe seek to claw back the progress made on the reproductive rights and justice front. We have seen a rise in efforts by anti-rights groups to restrict access to abortion in Europe – the restriction of access to abortion in Poland and the criminalisation of those who aid people who seek abortion services like Justyna Wydrzyńska, for instance – that this decision can act as a bulwark against. This ruling offers a chance for Spain to spearhead a movement at the regional level to guarantee women and gender-diverse people their reproductive rights, including their right to access abortion without barriers due to class or migration status.

Our work as a transnational organisation has seen us be part of Causa Justa, the Colombian movement that ushered in the decriminalisation of abortion up to 24 weeks. Part of the Green Wave in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is illustrative of the vast possibilities for learning and exchange that exist when there is global solidarity in the quest for reproductive justice.

The right of young people to access reproductive health services is in direct conversation with those in other places we work with such as Kenya where this is currently being contested in regard to consent and parents’ rights. In recognition of the interconnectedness of both the fight for rights and the global nature of opposition groups, we consider this decision a stepping stone towards more progress.

At a time where the right to life enshrined in national constitutions is being used to deny women, girls, and gender-diverse people access to reproductive autonomy and abortion services, the Spanish Constitutional Court’s finding that abortion is respectful of life can serve as a persuasive argument for activists and advocates elsewhere in the region and beyond.