Spain plans to introduce one of Europe's strictest abortion laws, which will allow terminations only in cases of rape or when an expectant mother's life is at risk.

The country's conservative centre-right government rolled back current legislation, which allows abortions with no restrictions until the 14<sup>th week, to introduce the draft bill, which is expected to be approved by parliament and become law in the first half of 2014.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said accredited foetal deformities that would endanger the life of a child if a pregnancy was carried through to full term will also be permissible grounds for the termination of a pregnancy.

"We can't allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother," Ruiz-Gallardon told reporters.

The justice minister also said 16 and 17-year-olds will once again have to obtain parental permission to have an abortion.

The bill has provoked fierce criticism from women's rights groups and opposition parties, which have described the move as a step back nearly 40 years, to the time of General Franco's dictatorship.

Rights groups also fear that the law will lead to a rise in the use of dangerous backstreet abortion clinics and force thousands of women to go abroad to end their unwanted pregnancies.

"We will find ourselves once again in a situation like the 1980s, when Spanish women had to go to England and France to interrupt their pregnancies," said Luis Enrique Sanchez, head of Spain's Planned Parenthood Federation.

"It would put these women is a dramatic situation that would create much pain and suffering."

The draft bill is almost certain to be passed into law because many supporters of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling People's Party are practising Catholics, and Spain's Catholic Church has frequently called for an anti-abortion law.

Since 2010, Spanish women have been able to obtain abortions without restrictions until the 14<sup>th week of a pregnancy under a law introduced by Spain's then socialist government.

According to the latest figures from Spain's health ministry, a total of 118,359 abortions were carried out in Spain in 2011, up from 113,031 in 2010.

Ireland is currently the only country in Europe that bans abortions, while Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Poland restrict terminations to cases where a life-threatening risk is present or where the foetus is malformed.