Spain’s conservative government has provoked a storm among women’s groups with plans to tighten abortion laws to make the procedure illegal in cases where the foetus is deformed.

About 100 people took part in a rally in Madrid’s central Tirso de Molina square on Sunday to protest against the proposed reform which they argue will take Spain back to the era of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

The crowd, mostly women, chanted “We give birth, we decide” and “Not one step backwards”.

“It seems to us to be a throwback to the Franco dictatorship and we are not willing to accept under any circumstances measures that will take away our rights,” said Justa Montero, member of the Feminist Assembly, one of the women’s groups that organised the protest.

The government announced Friday it would alter an abortion law introduced by its Socialist predecessors in 2010 which gave women the legal right to abortion on demand for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The 2010 law also allowed women the legal right to abort up to the 22nd week of pregnancy in cases where the mother’s health is at risk or the foetus shows serious deformities.

In cases of extreme malformation of a foetus, an abortion could be carried out at any time if approved by an ethics committee.

But Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the law should be changed to ban abortion in cases of a deformed foetus.

“I don’t understand why we should deprive a foetus of life by allowing abortion for the simple reason that it suffers a handicap or a deformity,” he said in an interview published in conservative daily La Razon on July 22.

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