Over a million people took part in an anti-abortion rally in Madrid last Saturday, making it possibly the biggest march since anti-war protests in 2003 and 2004. Among the waving banners, balloons and Spanish flags with the slogan “Every Life Matters”, several centre-right opposition parties – who were backed by Roman Catholic bishops – joined the demonstration. Civic groups also opposed government plans to liberalise Spain’s abortion law and chartered 600 buses from other cities to Madrid to support the event.
The Socialist Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, wants to allow unrestricted abortion at up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. At present, Spain’s existing law dating from 1985 allows abortion in cases of rape and when there are signs of foetal abnormality. A pregnancy can also be terminated if the patient is to suffer a physical or psychological risk. In practice, the latter category has been used to justify the majority of the annual 100,000 abortions.
However, emotional reactions sparked off – including some Socialists – as the newly drafted law has allowed girls aged 16 and 17 to have abortions without parental consent. The Associated Press interviewed 15-year old Andrea Caballeria, who said that it is not “right for a 16-year-old girl to take the decision to kill a child” as that person “can be like me or you in a few years”. These reactions illustrate the latest views on a series of ethical issues which have pitted the Catholic right against the Spanish government, which has legalised gay marriage and has made divorce easier.
Despite the criticisms, the government claims that the proposals will make abortion safer, as it will not allow abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy. In recent years, doctors performed abortions on women eight months pregnant, with the justification that their mental health was under threat.
Parliament is expected to vote this year on the legislation. The Socialist government hopes to bring Spain into line with other European countries such as Britain, France and German, who respect women’s rights and give unrestricted abortion in early stages of pregnancy.
Mari Shibata – International News Editor