by Marge Berer
The history of the persecution of Dr Carlos Morín, former director of the Ginemedex clinic in Barcelona, Spain, the staff of his clinic and the thousands of women who had abortions there began in Britain in 2004 and reached its climax, at least for the moment, on 17 June 2016, in the Regional Court of Barcelona, where during a re-trial ordered by the Supreme Court, three years after he and all his staff had been acquitted of all charges against them, Dr Morín was found guilty of having carried out 11 illegal abortions and a psychiatrist from the clinic, Dr Pascual Javier Ramón, was found guilty of signing the forms authorising the abortions.
What happened in between is the stuff of nightmares. The case was dragged through the justice system and the media for more than ten years by anti-abortion groups, who succeeded in having all Dr Morín’s clinics closed six years before he was even tried in court, and everyone who had been working in the clinics and the patients were investigated. Not only Dr Morín and his wife, who worked with him, but also many members of their staff were finally put on trial in 2012. In the interim, he was unable to practise his profession as a doctor and suffered from both public condemnation and bankruptcy, due to huge legal costs throughout the whole process.
The story began in Britain on 10 October 2004, when the Sunday Telegraph ran a story, based on “undercover” work by a woman journalist pretending to be pregnant, that women beyond the legal time limit for abortion in England and Wales were being helped by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) to obtain abortions in Dr Morín’s clinic in Spain. Following an investigation by the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health, Bpas were criticised for the way the undercover call was handled, but were exonerated of any wrongdoing.
Moreover, according to the Chief Medical Officer’s report, the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia reported on 14 October 2004 that the Health Department of Catalunya had come to the conclusion that the Barcelona clinic “attends patients in a correct and legal manner”. The Catalunyan Department added that they had carried out an inspection which confirmed that the clinic concerned had provided services within the terms defined by the regulatory and legal system.
The British Chief Medical Officer’s report also stated: “My investigation has shown that it can be difficult for women to access late abortion services.” (Chief Medical Officer report, 2005)
Thus, no wrongdoing was found in either Britain or Spain. The situation did not end there, however. It was advanced further following an undercover visit to the Ginemedex clinic by a Danish public television crew, which was aired on TV in 2006 in Denmark, France and the Netherlands. That led to an investigation of a clinic in the Netherlands who, like Bpas, sometimes referred women with late second trimester abortions (25-28 weeks) and rarely a third trimester abortion who were beyond the legal time limit in their countries to the Ginemedex clinic. The ultra-religious group E-Cristians used the Danish TV show to call for an investigation of whether the Ginemedex clinic was doing abortions outside the law.
Under the law in Spain until 2010, abortion was legal up to 12 weeks if the pregnancy resulted from rape, up to 22 weeks in cases of severe fetal anomaly, and with no time limit if it was necessary to avoid a grave danger to the life or the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Throughout this period, the Ginemedex clinic followed the guidelines for assessing the women who came to them in line with legal protocols. The woman was seen by a psychiatrist who also authorised that the abortion was legal and on that basis, the staff carried out the abortions.
According to Anne-Marie Rey, an abortion rights activist in Switzerland since 1971, who has closely followed the case from the beginning:
“Up to 2007, the Ginemedex clinic was a last resort for women who sought an abortion in advanced stages of pregnancy. Women were sent to Barcelona from many countries, when it was not possible to help them at home. Personally I gave his address to several women from Switzerland and they were always treated with respect and empathy. Yes, Dr Morín did interpret the Spanish abortion law liberally. But, in fact, he only applied the World Health Organization definition of “health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. And he applied this interpretation also in the case of desperate women who needed an abortion late in pregnancy, after 24 weeks gestation.”
As has been shown all over Europe, women requesting an abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy are rare. In Britain, for example, in 2002, of the 175,932 abortions that took place, only 117 were after 24 weeks of pregnancy, that is, 0.06% of the total. (Chief Medical Officer report, 2005) This number and proportion are not unusual. The Chief Medical Officer’s report stated that in 2003, of all the patients seen within the 26 abortion clinics in Catalunya, only 812 patients were foreign (of whom only 14 were from the UK). 98.9% of the abortions on foreigners were at less than 22 weeks of pregnancy. In 3 cases it was in the 24th week and in 5 cases in the 26th week. (Chief Medical Officer’s report, 2005)
What came next, according to an article by the anti-abortion group Religion en Libertad, with information they say came from E-Cristians, would not have taken place without; 1) foreign media involvement, 2) follow-up by anti-abortion groups who kept written records and spent money, 3) the written testimony of a woman who attended the Ginemedex clinic, who was given protected witness status, and 4) a judge and prosecutor who decided to pursue the case “hasta el final” (up to the very end).
In 2007, as part of what became a long investigation, Dr Morín was charged with carrying out “illegal abortions”. He was jailed for two months until a judge ruled that he could be released pending trial, his four Ginemedex clinics were closed, and the clinics’ records, including the personal records of several thousand women, were confiscated for examination. The investigation, including interviews with all the staff and many patients, took six years. In September 2012, the case opened in the Audiencia de Barcelona, a regional court.
Between 2007 and 2012, when the case was finally heard, many other clinics in Spain were also affected. According to one report, there were increased political inspections and administrative and judicial harassment for all abortion clinics and the women patients they cared for, and there was more radical anti-choice activity. Complaints were laid against other abortion providers in registered clinics. One clinic especially suffered “virulent persecution by both anti-abortion groups and by the government itself” for a time, until the situation was clarified.
Some 115 charges of illegal abortion were laid against 12 people, including Dr Morín, his wife (who helped to run his clinics), the psychiatrist Dr Pascual Javier Ramón, and 9 other physicians and nurses. There were hundreds of statements submitted by the prosecution and thousands of pages of judicial and police reports.
According to Religion en Libertad, up to 2012 when the case came to court, E-Cristians had spent 55,000 Euros, including for “extra-judicial actions” and the involvement of lawyers who “knew the terrain” and another 39,000 Euros for other costs (Defiende usted la vida? 2012)
The case concluded with a verdict on 31 January 2013. The verdict was the acquittal of every person charged and on every charge, as reported in El País on 1 February 2013. The court accepted that the abortions were performed “with the consent and at the express request of pregnant women” despite some administrative irregularities. However, both the Prosecutor in the case and the anti-abortion groups who had accused Dr Morín and his staff (E-Cristians, Spanish Alternative, Thomas More Foundation and the College of Physicians of Barcelona) did not accept the verdict and appealed to the Supreme Court. Nine months later, the Supreme Court criticised the Regional Court’s judgement and ordered a re-trial in the Regional Court with different judges. They gave two reasons: first, they argued that the Danish television programme should have been taken in evidence, which the Regional Court had decided against doing. Second, they said that because Dr Morín exercised his right not to testify, the judges did not allow the prosecutor to read out the questions they had prepared to ask him. The Supreme Court thought, however, that these had to be made public and answered, in order to determine, as claimed by the Prosecutor, whether there were contradictions between the pre-trial and the trial evidence.
In March 2015, Dr Morín appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Within less than two months, the Court replied that they would not consider the case because the request did not comply with the requisites of admissibility of articles 34 and 35 of the Convention. (CEDH-Lesp11.00R, MMI/MCM/agz, Demanda No.13465/15, letter dated 30 April 2015) The presumption is that he had not exhausted his right of appeal to the very top of the Spanish court system.
The re-trial took place in the Regional Court of Barcelona in January-February 2016. This time, both Dr Morín and Dr Ramón were found guilty and sentenced – not to 390 years or 278 years in prison as the Prosecutor had asked for originally, but to 18 months in prison – and not for over 100 illegal abortions but for 11 illegal abortions. All the other defendants in the case were again acquitted. One could be forgiven for asking whether this new judgement was in fact safe, let alone just.
The final irony, however, is that according to El País of 17 June 2016, the sentence is not firm and can actually be appealed, once again, to the Supreme Court. Thus, it would appear that in Spain, if ultra-religious, anti-abortion NGOs, who have no legal standing, don’t like the verdict of a court of law, the defendants can be tried again in the same court on the same charges by different judges, with different verdicts and opinions on what constitutes evidence, for as long as it pleases the courts to take, and the European Court of Human Rights is prevented by its own rules from considering whether the human rights of the defendants have been and continue to be violated.
A note of thanks
I join with Anne-Marie Rey who said on 20 June upon hearing of the verdict: “This latest sentence is a scandal. Thank you, Dr Morín, and all your staff for all you did for those women! And for your standing up for the right of women to decide for themselves in difficult life situations. I do hope some help is still possible for Dr Morín in return.”
Thanks to Anne-Marie Rey for providing a wide range of documentation about this history over several years and for her help in preparing this article. Any errors are the author’s alone.
An Investigation into the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) Response to Requests for Late Abortions. A report by the Chief Medical Officer. Department of Health, September 2005.
Defiende usted la vida? El caso Morín ouede cambiar la historia del abortion…pero requiere dinero. http://www.religionenlibertad.com/articulo_imprimir.asp?idarticulo=22994. 5 June 2012.
Condenado por abortos ilegales un médico absuelto hace tres años, El País, 17 June 2016.
See also the Annex that follows, listing the 34 articles from El País covering this history from 2006 to 2016. The titles and first lines are in Spanish, translated by me, with the help of SDL Free Translation, into English. The articles are in Spanish.
Annex: El País headlines – 34 articles between 30 October 2006 and 17 June 2016
The Generalitat investigates whether a clinic in Barcelona practised illegal abortions
Una televisión danesa revela que en el centro se interrumpen embarazos avanzados y cobra 4.000 euros por la intervención
A Danish television programme reveals that the clinic is terminating advanced pregnancies and charges 4,000 euros for the intervention
The director of the clinics registered in Barcelona is detained for alleged illegal abortions
Al menos otras cinco personas han sido arrestadas.- Entre ellos se encuentran los máximos responsables de los cuatro centros
At least five other people have been arrested, among them the heads of the four clinics
Six people have been detained in the case of the four abortion clinics in Barcelona
El personal médico podría enfrentarse a acusaciones de aborto ilegal, falsedad documental, asociación ilícita e intrusismo profesional
Medical staff could face charges of illegal abortion, falsifying documentation, illicit association and professional intrusiveness
Prison without bail for three of the six detainees from the four Barcelona abortion clinics
La juez les imputa los delitos de aborto ilegal, asociación ilícita, intrusismo y falsedad documental
They were charged with the offences of illegal abortion, unlawful association, intrusiveness and falsifying documentation
Seven detained in Barcelona in a new raid on abortion clinics
Entre ellos hay profesionales de la medicina.-Tres de los seis detenidos en la primera fase se encuentran en prisión
Among them are medical professionals; three of the six detainees from the first raids are still in prison
The Health Department says the closure of the abortion clinic in Madrid is not linked to the cases in Barcelona
Güemes dice desconocer si ejercía “las mismas prácticas” y subraya que la clausura se debió a una inspección rutinaria.- El centro médico ya fue investigado por la Guardia Civil en 2006
Güemes says it is not known if they carried out “the same practices” and stressed that the closure was following a routine inspection. The clinic had already been investigated by the police in 2006
Detention without bail for two psychiatrists from the abortion clinics in Barcelona
A otros cuatro médicos se les impone fianzas de hasta 4.000 euros
For the four other doctors bail of up to 4,000 euros imposed
The gynaecologist Morín, released after two months in prison on charges of practising illegal abortions
La Audiencia de Barcelona considera que ya no existe riesgo de fuga o de destrucción de pruebas
The Regional Court of Barcelona considers there is no longer any risk of leakage or destruction of evidence
The gynaecologist Morín going through a harsh personal financial situation and will not reopen his clinics
El abogado del médico asegura que éste podría jubilarse
His solicitor says the doctor could retire
The instructor in the case of the Clinic Isadora extends the secrecy of the proceedings against the clinic for a month
La portavoz de Isadora compara la persecución contra los médicos del Severo Ochoa con el acoso a los de las clínicas de abortos
The spokesperson for the Clinic Isadora compares the persecution of the doctors of the Severo Ochoa with harassment of the abortion clinics
Psychiatrist who worked for Morín is charged and released
Está acusado de aborto ilegal, asociación ilícita y falsedad documental
He is charged with illegal abortion, unlawful association and falsifying documentation
The judge examined 2,780 clinical histories of patients who had an abortion in the clinics of Morín
Hoy se ha levantado parcialmente el secreto del sumario de este caso
Today, the summary of the charges in this case, kept secret till now, has been partially lifted
The case against 21 women who had abortions in the clinics of Morín were filed
La Fiscalía está estudiando los autos, pero previsiblemente no recurrirá la decisión
The prosecutor is studying Morín’s cars, but predictably will not use the decision
The Regional Court is forced to reveal the identity of the women who have had abortions in the clinics of Morín
Aduce que se trata de garantizar el derecho de defensa de los acusados de los centros de Barcelona
Argues that the aim is to guarantee the right of defence of the accused of the Barcelona clinics
La vicepresidenta cree que es conveniente revisar “las experiencias más innovadoras” de las leyes de plazos europeas
De la Vega, vice president of the Spanish Socialist Party, announces that she will propose a reform of the law on abortion
She believes it is desirable to review “the most innovative examples” of the laws in Europe
La Fiscalía recurrirá la obligación de desvelar la identidad de las abortistas
The Prosecutor intends to appeal against the obligation to disclose the identity of the women who had abortions
The spokesman for the Consejo General de Poder Judicial believes that the Vega has disqualified the work of the judges
Enrique López arremete contra las palabras de la vicepresidenta en referencia al caso de las clínicas abortivas de Barcelona
Enrique López swoops down on the words of the Socialist Party vice-president in reference to the case of abortion clinics in Barcelona
The judge charges Doctor Carlos Morín for 115 illegal abortions and archives another 50 covered by the new law
También acusa a la mujer del médico y 11 de sus colaboradores
He also charges the doctor’s wife and 11 of their colleagues
The Prosecutor asks for a sentence of 309 years in prison for Doctor Morín for 100 illegal abortions
El acusado y su equipo practicaron interrupciones del embarazo después de los siete meses y medio
He says the accused and his team carried out terminations of pregnancy after seven and a half months
The Prosecutor accuses Doctor Morín of defrauding Finance half a million
El querellado por la Fiscalía de Barcelona irá a juicio por practicar un centenar de abortos ilegales en en la capital catalana
The defendant is told by the Prosecutor of Barcelona he will be put on trial for carrying out 100 illegal abortions in the Catalan capital
The judge charges Doctor Morín 446,000 euros for tax fraud
El ginecólogo, dueño de clínicas a las que se atribuyen un centenar de abortos ilegales, ha sido citado el 13 de febrero
The gynaecologist, owner of clinics they are accused of 100 illegal abortions, has been summonsed to appear on 13 February
The Dept of Justice closes the case of illegal abortions by Morín in Madrid
El sistema de plazos de la ley vigente salva de ir a juicio al doctor, que sí tendrá que sentarse en el banquillo de los acusados en Barcelona
The upper time limits under the existing abortion law save the same doctor from going on trial who will have to sit in the dock in Barcelona
The trial of Doctor Morín escalates the battle on abortion
El fiscal pide 309 años de cárcel para el responsable de las clínicas abortistas
The Prosecutor asks for 309 years in prison for the director of the abortion clinics
The [Danish TV] interview that revealed the late abortions submitted in the trial of the doctor
La fiscalía pide que un vídeo grabado con cámara oculta se valore como prueba. El acusado dice que se limitó a “ejercer la voluntad de la mujer”
The Prosecutor asks that the video of Morín, recorded with a hidden camera, is accepted in evidence as it serves as proof. The accused says he acted to “carry out the wishes of the women”
The judge exempts the patients of Morín from blame for any illegal abortion
El tribunal permite a las testigos negarse a contestar algunas preguntas
The court allows these witnesses to refuse to answer some questions
The gynaecologists from Morín’s clinics deny having done illegal abortions
Los acusados defienden que ellos no realizaban la evaluación de los casos
These defendants argue that they did not carry out the assessment of the cases
A blow to the indictment against Morín when the two protected witnesses retract their testimony against him
Dos ex-trabajadoras dicen no recordar o saber lo que ocurría en la clínica abortista y quitan a la Fiscalía una de sus bazas
Two ex-workers say they do not remember or know what happened in the abortion clinic, removing crucial testimony from the Prosecutor’s case
The patients of Doctor Morín claim the legality of their abortions
Las seis primeras testigos dicen que fueron visitadas por psiquiatras aunque una asegura que un médico la indujo a decir que “estaba mal psicológicamente”
The first six witnesses say they were assessed by a psychiatrist but one also says that the doctor led her to say that she felt “bad psychologically”
The Prosecutor lowers the prison sentence he is asking for Morín to 273 years
La acusación retira varios abortos ilegales incluidos en la causa inicial, que reclamaba 309 para el médico
The lowered number of years was because several abortions included in the initial list as illegal were removed
Doctor Morín acquitted of illegal abortions: “I was a scapegoat”
La Audiencia cree que las intervenciones se ajustaron a la ley
The Court thought that the abortions were within the intention of the law
The Supreme Court orders a re-trial of Doctor Morín
El alto tribunal estima el recurso de la fiscalía y anula la absolución de la Audiencia de Barcelona
The Supreme Court hears the appeal of the Office of the Prosecutor and sets aside the acquittal handed down by the Regional Court of Barcelona
“I have been the target of political and religious movements”
El especialista asegura que la sentencia del Tribunal Supremo que obliga a repetir su juicio es “ideológica” y lamenta una decisión basada en “falsedades”
The doctor is sure that the decision of the Supreme Court to require a re-trial is “ideological” and laments that it is a decision based on “falsehoods”
The women patients who had abortions in the clinics of Morín will need to return to give evidence
La Fiscalía rechaza eximir a las pacientes de testificar en la repetición del juicio
The Prosecutor rejects exempting the patients from testifying in the re-trial
Morín asserts that the abortions were legal and supervised by the Health Department
El médico, su esposa y una decena de facultativos de sus clínicas, vuelven a ser juzgados en la Audiencia de Barcelona
The doctor, his wife and a dozen doctors from his clinics must return to be re-tried by the Regional Court of Barcelona
Condemned for illegal abortions, the doctor was acquitted three years ago
El Supremo obligó a repetir el juicio y los magistrados concluyen ahora que Carlos Morín incumplió los requisitos de la ley de 1985 para practicar interrupciones del embarazo ilegales
The Supreme Court has ordered a re-trial; these judges concluded that Carlos Morín failed to comply with the requirements of the law of 1985 to provide illegal abortions…. [But] the judgment is not firm and may be appealed again to the Supreme Court.
 Some might call it attempted entrapment.
 Anonymous, personal communication, October 2011.
 This is a direct translation from the Spanish.
 “La sentencia tampoco es firme y puede ser recurrida, de nuevo, ante el Tribunal Supremo.”