Spain for choice: thousands turn out against anti-abortion law pushed by right wing
Margaret Viggiani
volume 35
issue 2
April 2014

In Madrid on Feb. 8, 2014, thousands take to the street to protest legislation that would severely restrict the ability to get an abortion. The banner reads: “We decide. Free Abortion.” Credit: Javier Barbancho / Reuters

An attempt to ban 90 percent of all abortions in Spain has been met with a hailstorm of opposition. First proposed in December 2013, the “Law for the protection of the life of the unborn and the rights of the pregnant woman” completely erodes a woman’s right to control her body. Many see this as is a return to the repressions of Franco’s fascist regime (1939-75).

As the FS goes to press, the restrictions have not been approved. But the conservative Popular Party (PP) has a large majority in Parliament and most believe the legislation will pass. Ongoing uproar against the restrictions may turn the tide. Only time will tell.

A giant step backward. Spain is 70 percent Roman Catholic. Spain is also 80 percent pro-choice. That’s what recent polls report and what the existing law allows. This data shows that Spanish Catholics apparently don’t follow every dictate of the Cardinals. Carmen, a 63-year-old grandmother who had to go to London for an abortion decades ago, said, “It can’t be that after 30 years we’re back in the same situation! It means we are not advancing as a country.” Her savvy warning clearly shows that Spaniards recognize the political significance of this assault on women’s reproductive rights.

The current law, passed in 2010 when the Spanish Socialist Workers Party was in power, is one of the most liberal in Europe. It allows publicly funded abortion on demand for the first 14 weeks. In cases of fetal abnormalities, abortions can be done up to 22 weeks. Minors do not need parental consent.

The Popular Party measure, on the other hand, would ban all abortions except in case of rape, or if the pregnancy poses a serious physical or mental health risk to the woman — as decided by medical professionals. Minors would need parental consent.

Abortion is common in Spain. In 2011 there were 118,000 abortions. If Parliament passes the draconian law, the number of legal procedures will drop to approximately 10,000. Feminists, of course, know that the changes won’t stop abortions. But they will criminalize them, and make them mortally dangerous.

Poor and working-class women will undoubtedly be hit hardest. Spain suffers a crushing unemployment rate of 26 percent. Wages are frozen and the social safety net has been shredded. Outlawing abortion will force poor women to choose between illegal abortions or impoverished motherhood. A petition signed by over 2,000 medical professionals calls on the government to scrap the anti-abortion bill, because it “puts the life and health of women in danger.”

A split, Tea Party style? The architect of this legislation is the ultra-right Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. He has vowed to take the Popular Party and his crusade to the European Parliament and shatter the “myth of the moral superiority of the left.” He is a leading voice in the rising right-wing thrust in Spain and the increasingly powerful Catholic hierarchy. But they clearly underestimated the power of this issue and now face surprising opposition among members of the conservative Popular Party.

This struggle for women’s rights is causing cracks in the PP. Jose Antonio Monago, PP leader for the Extremadura, one of Spain’s poorest regions, pressed for changes in the draft law before it is ratified by the Spanish Parliament. “No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother,” he said, “and no one can oblige anyone to be a mother either.” Celia Villalobos, the deputy speaker of Parliament urged fellow conservatives to break with PP leadership and vote their conscience.

A mounting movement. When Ruiz-Gallardón’s reactionary bill was first announced, protests sprung up in over a dozen cities, including Bilbao, Malaga and Barcelona. In Madrid, 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice building and called for his resignation.

Pro-abortion actions have been in motion ever since. In authentic Pussy Riot mode, topless women accosted a Catholic cardinal, pelting him with lace panties and chanting, “Abortion is sacred.” On Feb. 1, tens of thousands took to the streets of Madrid. “Freedom trains” from cities and towns across Spain transported marchers to the capital for the protest. Slogans included: “My ovaries: not the priests, nor politicians,” and “We give birth, we decide.”

More than 300 groups organized this mass protest and it showed in the diversity of participants — young and old, male and female, leftists, feminists and more demanding abortion rights. Said one, Rodrigo Martinez Barrios, “This law affects us [men] just as much — we’re parents too.” Speakers made it clear an abortion ban is not what Spaniards want.

Solidarity actions have taken place across Europe — in Rome, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Brussels, and Paris. And the protests continue. On March 8, International Women’s Day, thousands again rallied in Madrid.

Clearly, the people of Spain aren’t going quietly back to fascism. The fierce battle for reproductive rights is integral to confronting Spain’s ruling class turn to the far right.

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