Spain: Region drops order to offer heartbeat before abortion

MADRID (AP) — A Spanish regional chief has poured cold water on an announcement by a far-right member of his cabinet that doctors would have to give women a chance to listen to the heartbeats of fetuses before any abortion procedure.

Castile and Leon's conservative president, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, said Monday that the central Spanish region would allow women seeking an abortion to request those procedures, including four-dimensional ultrasound scans or psychological counseling. But he said that those wouldn’t be actively offered by doctors, as previously announced by a prominent member of the regional ruling coalition.

“Doctors won’t be forced to do anything, pregnant women won’t be forced to do anything,” Fernández Mañueco said.

The change in the regional public health services protocols was initially announced last week by the regional vice president, Juan García-Gallardo, a member of the far-right Vox party that supports Fernández Mañueco's conservative Popular Party in power.

Vox is one of the youngest European far-right parties and shares an ultra-conservative agenda with other European players such as Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s Fidesz or Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

García-Gallardo's comments created a stir and threw the divisive matter into the political debate in the run-up to an important local and regional election set to take place in late May, and a general election before the end of the year.

In Spain's highly devolved system, each of the country's 17 regions manages public health services, although national guidelines and laws have to be respected.

The 4D ultrasound scans and heartbeat sound procedures are services that women can opt for in existing pregnancy protocols in the region, but never as a default response to a request for an abortion procedure.

“It is clear to me how altering the order of factors might turn into direct and indirect coercion,” Fernández Mañueco said at a televised press conference Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's left-wing government has tried to stop the region's authorities' plan to go ahead with the overhaul of medical protocols.

“The Spanish government will use every resource in the law to defend the freedom of women and their right to stop their pregnancies under the terms applied in existing legislation," a statement by the prime minister's office read.

Spanish law allows abortions until the 14th week of pregnancy. The country's parliament has recently made several moves to strengthen abortion rights nationwide.

Raquel Redondo, The Associated Press