Plans for a sweeping reform of Spain's abortion law ran into trouble Monday as polls showed strong opposition to a proposal to allow girls as young as 16 to end a pregnancy without parental consent.
Sixty-four percent of those surveyed in a poll for El Pais daily oppose the measure included in the proposed shake-up of Spain's abortion law unveiled by the government last month.
Among supporters of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists, 56 percent said they opposed the move, according to the Metroscopia poll of 1,000 people carried out for the left-wing paper on May 27 and 28.
Another poll carried out for the conservative daily ABC found 57 percent of Spaniards "totally" or "relatively" oppose the measure while a third survey published in Catalan daily La Vanguardia put opposition at 71 percent.
Defence Minister Carme Chacon said the controversial measure would have to be considered by parliament where the Socialists lack a majority.
"The goal is to avoid that parents force their 17-year-old or 16-year-old daughter to remain pregnant if she does not want to," Chacon said during an interview with Cadena Ser radio.
"Unfortunately this happens. But in any case, it will be good to debate it."
Under the proposed reform, abortions would be allowed for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy on demand, and up to 22 weeks if there is a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus is deformed.
Women can also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus has a serious or incurable illness.
The existing law introduced in 1985, a decade after the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, only only allows abortion in cases of rape, fetal malformation and when a pregnant woman's mental or physical health is deemed to be at risk if the pregnancy goes to term.
Zapatero has sought to pass a series of sweeping social reforms since coming to power in 2004 that have angered the Roman Catholic Church.
He has pushed through legislation legalising gay marriage, allowing for fast-track divorces and giving increased rights to transsexuals, among other changes.
The Spanish Family Forum, a coalition of Catholic associations which led opposition to the legalisation of gay marriage in 2005, announced Monday it would stage a demonstration against abortion on October 17 in Madrid.
The proposed abortion reform is expected to be debated in parliament at that time and the protest will be a way to pressure the government, said the president of the forum, Benigno Blanco.
"Abortion should never be legalised because it is an attack against the right to life," he told a news conference.
Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) has said it will challenge government moves to liberalise the abortion law in the Constitutional Court.
PP leader Mariano Rajoy has accused the government of seeking to distract attention from problems that really concerned Spaniards, notably the steep recession which has created the European Union's highest unemployment rate.
Last month Zapatero defended the abortion changes, saying the state should not "intervene in the free and private decision of a woman, who is the one who has to take on the responsibility of a pregnancy during her entire life."
"Let's take into account what the experts say, the experience of other European countries and let's have confidence in our youth," he added.