Associated Press

May 28, 1997

MALAGA, Spain (AP) -- A trial in which 34 people are accused of either conducting or taking part in illegal abortions was suspended an hour after it began Wednesday when 15 of the defendants failed to show up.

One of the three presiding judges who agreed to the prosecutor's request for suspension of the trial said arrest warrants would be issued to ensure that all the defendants show up next time. A new trial date was not set. Eight staff members of a clinic in this southern city, including two gynecologists, were arrested in 1986 along with 26 women clients for allegedly taking part in 44 abortions.

The prosecution has asked the court to sentence the employees to 21 years each and the women clients to six months each.

The case has been closely followed for the past 10 years by women's groups, who say the charges are a farce.

Spain's leading daily El Pais published a letter Wednesday signed by dozens of labor, political and health groups calling for laws giving women the right to abortion on demand.

Since 1985, abortion has been legal in Spain only in cases of rape, incest or fetal malformation, or when the mother's life is in danger.

In June 1996, the ruling conservative Popular Party defeated a Socialist Party-led motion to debate a bill that would allow women to interrupt pregnancies in the first 12 weeks.

"It's a disgrace that anyone should have to stand trial and discuss their personal life for having done something which is their right," said Cristina Almeida, a lawyer and parliamentary deputy for the United Left coalition who attended the trial.