It’s our choice, not the government’s

February 26, 2014

Over 10,000 people protested in the Spanish capital of Madrid on February 8 against a draconian, anti-abortion law proposed by the Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón of the ruling right-wing Popular Party (PP).

The proposal, known as the "Law for the protection of the life of the unborn and the rights of the pregnant woman," became public on December 20. If implemented it would mark the most severe attack on women's rights in Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975.

The current law, implemented under the PSOE (Socialist Workers Party) government in 2010, is the most progressive in Spain's history. It allows abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy for any reason or the 22nd week in cases of fetal malformation or for threats to the women's health. However, abortions are still regulated by the Criminal Code; public health officials can "conscientiously object" to performing abortions; women under 18 must obtain the permission of their parents; and all women must wait three days from the moment they see a doctor until the termination itself.

Gallardón's proposal would allow abortion in only two situations. First, due to rape, but only in the first 12 weeks, and then only if a police report has been filed; and secondly, due to risks of physical or psychological damage to a women's health, but only up to the 22nd week.

The right to an abortion due to fetal malformation alone would be eliminated. A woman could only argue this if she's able to prove such issues put her own life at risk. Still, to use this exemption a woman would need to see two different physicians: one to verify the fetal malformations and the other to analyze the "psyche" of the woman. And neither health professional could work at the same facility where the abortion would be performed.

The Movimiento Feminista de Madrid (Madrid Feminist Movement) organized the February 8 protest as one step in building a national movement against the proposal. They marched behind a lead banner which read, "Freedom to Abort, It's Our Choice." Women handed out twigs of parsley and "herb of grace," both traditional medicinal herbs used to stop pregnancies, while others carried coat hangers, in order to symbolize the methods women would have to resort to for illegal abortions if this law passes. On the same day, solidarity rallies were held in over 20 cities around Spain.

This movement is only the latest in a recent wave of resistance to the PP's policies. And, it was only three years ago in 2011 when protests of Los Indignados (the Indignants) mobilized hundreds of thousands against the austerity policies of the PSOE, which ran the country at that time.

Since then, in national elections voters have rejected the PSOE and elected Mariano Rajoy of the PP as the president. Not surprisingly, attacks on the working class have continued. Gallardón's proposal is merely the party following through on campaign pledges to roll back abortion rights.

The next big national day of action will be on International Women's Day on March 8 with a rally and march planned in Madrid and other cities.

Here, we reprint a statement by the Movimiento Feminista de Madrid (Madrid Feminist Movement), circulated on February 8. It explains the group's opposition to Gallardón's proposed law and the importance for maintaining and extending abortion rights in Spain.

IN RESPONSE to the government's approval of the draft abortion bill "protecting the lives of the unborn and the rights of pregnant women," we wish to express our absolute rejection of what is clearly an attack on the rights, autonomy and freedom of women.

Under this bill, 97 percent of women who decide to terminate a pregnancy will be forced to do so "illegally." Those who have the means will go abroad and the rest will jeopardize their health and lives by resorting to clandestine abortions, not to mention the legal uncertainty and vulnerability that this will cause health care professionals.

The primary aim of the draft bill is a so-called defense of life. However, this is the claim of a government that imposes unfair labor policies and cutbacks in access to nursery schools, which refuses to extend paternity leave or to make assisted reproduction available to all women, and which eliminates basic social services, in addition to cutting spending on health care and dependency. Faced with this reality, we ask ourselves what life they are referring to when they talk about life.

Protesters at the Ministry of Health in Madrid oppose anti-choice legislation
Protesters at the Ministry of Health in Madrid oppose anti-choice legislation (Adolfo Lujan)

Claiming the right to abort freely means that it is unacceptable to force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and question her decision to abort. The right to choose is a recognition of women as morally autonomous individuals able to make decisions regarding their lives, bodies and motherhood (to decide whether to have children or not).

Given that we are independent, responsible, free and equal citizens, we demand the following:

The immediate withdrawal of this draft bill, which violates the rights of women and our autonomy, freedom, health, life and dignity.

That abortion should not be included in the penal code. That all women be legally entitled to terminate an unwanted pregnancy without suffering any kind of discrimination.

That affective-sexual education, free from sexist and homophobic stereotypes, be promoted and ensured. In contrast, the Wert bill promotes religious education in schools while excluding sex education taught by qualified professional from the classroom.

That the autonomy of young women be respected, so that 16 and 17 year olds do not require the permission of their parents (let alone a judge) to decide on the question of motherhood.

That conscientious objection be regulated so that no woman is left without health care.

Women do not need the guardianship of others. This is nothing more than an attempt to impose a way of life that denies our status as citizens with full rights. We say NO to the proposal of the government and we demand that the right to abort be recognized.


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