MADRID — Spain's conservative government has provoked a storm among women's groups with plans to tighten the country's abortion laws to make the procedure illegal in cases where the foetus is deformed.

The government announced Friday it would alter an abortion law introduced by its Socialist predecessors in 2010 which gave women the legal right to abortion on demand for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The 2010 law also allowed women the legal right to abort up to the 22nd week of pregnancy in cases where the mother's health is at risk or the foetus shows serious deformities.

In cases of an extremely severe serious malformation of a foetus, an abortion could be carried out at any time if approved by an ethics committee.

But last week Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon came out strongly against allowing abortion in cases of a deformed foetus.

"I don't understand why we should deprive a foetus of life by allowing abortion for the simple reason that it suffers a handicap or a deformity," he said in an interview published in conservative daily La Razon on July 22.

On Friday the minister justified his plans on the grounds that the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities urges nations to "adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of disabled people".

A collective of women's rights groups has planned a protest in Madrid on Sunday against the planned abortion law reform that will get under way at noon (1000 GMT).

"The reform will send the law back to an era close to the Franco dictatorship and it distances Spain from the vast majority of European nations in terms of women's rights," the collective said in a statement.

Santiago Barambio, the head of the Spanish association of abortion clinics, Acai, and one of the authors of the 2010 abortion law, accuses the Popular Party government, in power since December, of hypocrisy.

"It is the peak of cynicism. At every international conference, all UN health agencies, the World Health Organisation, the Council of Europe, they all say not to restrict abortion," he told AFP.

"The minister represents the extreme right and the ultra-Catholics, which are perhaps a minority but are very powerful economically, such as Opus Dei for example," he added in a reference to the conservative Roman Catholic organisation whose name in Latin means "Work of God".

Trinidad Jimenez, a health minister in the previous Socialist government who now acts as the party's secretary for social policy, called the planned abortion law changes a "counter-reform".

"It sets us back 35 years," she said.

Before the 2010 abortion reform, women could have an abortion only in cases of rape, serious deformity or when the mother's mental or physical health was threatened.

The vast majority of the 115,000 abortions carried out in 2009, the year before the reform, were performed at private clinics and were justified on the grounds that the pregnancy posed a "psychological risk" to the woman.

Anti-abortion groups welcomed the planned abortion law reform.

Gador Joya, the spokesman for the "Right to Life" collective, said banning abortion in cases of a malformed foetus "is a step forward for the protection of the right to life."

"But it is not enough because we believe that 97 percent of the abortions carried out for other reasons are carried out under false pretences," he added.