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MADRID (AP) - Spain's conservative government on Friday approved tight restrictions on abortion, allowing the practice only in the case of rape or when there is a serious health risk to the mother or fetus.
The previous government made abortion widely legal before the 14th week only three years ago. But the ruling Popular Party has long sided with the Roman Catholic Church on moral and social issues and made changing the law one of its main promises in the 2011 vote that brought it to power.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said the change was necessary to provide greater protection for both women and the unborn.
"What the government understands is that in the dramatic circumstances of an abortion the woman is not guilty. The woman is always the victim," he said.
The bill has been vigorously opposed by most opposition parties and women's groups, who see it as an attack on women's rights and a step backward compared to Spain's neighbors in Europe. The legislation must still be approved by parliament, but the Popular Party's large majority means it is almost certain to pass.
More than 1,000 people marched to the Justice Ministry late Friday and scuffles with police broke out after a life-size effigy of Ruiz-Gallardon was burned. An Associated Press photographer saw four protesters arrested and at least one covered in blood and being treated for injuries after police charged toward them.
Women seeking abortions will need approval from two doctors who are not performing the procedure and doctors can decline to perform an abortion for reasons of conscience, Ruiz-Gallardon said. The likelihood of a child being born with disabilities will not be an acceptable justification for abortion.
Ruiz-Gallardon said 16- and 17-year-olds will once again have to obtain permission from their parents - and be accompanied by them - to have an abortion.
The minister stressed that the reform was a campaign pledge, though critics say that the party has broken nearly every election promise, including his pledge not to increase taxes or cut public sector pensions, as it imposes biting austerity to try to get Spain out of its crippling economic crisis.
Francisca Garcia of the Association of Accredited Abortion Clinics, which represents the vast majority of Spain's abortion clinics, said that about 100,000 of the 118,000 abortions carried out last year would be illegal under the new legislation.
Women's groups across the country have called on women in parliament, regardless of their party membership, to reject the legislation.
Iain Sullivan contributed to this report.
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