Spain's government has approved a tightening of abortion laws that will strip women of their right to choose to have the procedure up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Ministers at a cabinet meeting adopted a draft bill on Friday that will only allow women to have abortions in the case of rape or if the pregnancy poses a threat to their health, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon told a news conference.

He also said the new bill would guarantee the "defence both of the protection of life of the unborn and of women's rights" and would "act always in the interests of the woman".

Spain's existing law allows women to have abortions until 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks if the foetus is found to have serious deformations.

'Reduction in freedom'

Pro-choice campaigners were outraged by the new bill and said it would send Spain back to the 1980s, a time when women could only get abortions by travelling abroad.

Elena Valenciano, deputy leader of the main opposition Socialist Party, said defenders of abortion rights would "mobilise society against what is going to be an incomprehensible reduction in women's freedom".

But the new bill would not criminalise women for having abortions, as the previous 1985 legislation did, according to Ruiz-Gallardon.

Forty-six percent of Spaniards favoured keeping the law as is and 41 percent wanted a stricter system, according to an April study by pollster Metroscopia that was published in the newspaper El Pais .

The bill is expected to pass easily through parliament where the governing conservative Popular Party holds a strong majority.

Source: AFP