Tens of thousands of people gathered together in Madrid and marched to parliament today to protest a proposed new abortion law in Spain. More than 300 groups across Spain came together to voice their disapproval of the law that would cause abortion to be criminalized. They carried signs demanding decision-making power for mothers and freedom for both parents.
Under legislation developed by the now out of power Socialist government, abortion had been legal under most terms for women who were less than 14 weeks pregnant. The Popular Party, which has been in power since 2011, tends to side with the Roman Catholic Church and had made election promises to change abortion law. Because the parliament has a Popular Party majority, the law is expected to pass.
The new law would only allow abortion in rape cases or situations in which the mother’s health would be significantly at risk. Similar to pre-2010 laws, fetal malformation conditions could create the circumstances for a legal abortion but the specifics of those conditions are in question. The new law would also require parental consent for any and all cases in which the mother is under 18 years old.
Many opponents have claimed that this law is a step backward for Spain. Demonstrators accused the government of reverting the country to the time of Franco’s dictatorship. Abortion had been criminalized during much of the 20th century and Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy is seen to be imitating some of the time’s ultra-conservative measures. They have also accused the government of trying to distract the population from the larger issues at hand, such as the financial crisis that continues to plague the nation.
Abortion became legal in Spain in 1985, but was restricted to cases in which pregnancy could seriously affect the mother’s health, the conception had occurred through rape, or there was a strong risk of mental or physical deformity. That law was changed in 2010 to allow for abortions under most circumstances. The legislation was based on adherence to the World Health Organization’s law which ensures reproductive rights for all couples. An additional measure also existed that allowed termination up until 22 weeks in cases where serious risk was posed to the mother.
Rajoy has said that he will take all opinions and the constitution of the country “into account” as legislation moves forward. Recent polls have estimated Spanish opposition to the abortion law to stand between 70 and 80 percent. Considering the fact that Rajoy’s election campaign widely promoted his plan to end abortion in Spain, a sudden change of heart is not expected from the prime minister.
Spain’s Catholic Church has announced its support of the new law. With approximately 70 percent of the Spanish population identifying as Catholic, the Church is a significant advocate.
Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon has been asked to resign by the angry public. Ruiz-Gallardon drafted the law and continues to support it despite a wide lack of support.
Protestors have raised concerns about Spanish women traveling abroad to get abortions or trying their luck in illegal back alley clinics if abortion were to be criminalized. Protests outside of the Spanish embassies in London and Paris occurred on Saturday along with smaller-scale demonstrations in 34 different cities across the world.
By Nicci Mende