One million protest against Spanish abortion liberalisation

Saturday, October 17, 2009

According to organisers, more than one million people have marched across Madrid, Spain to oppose plans to liberalise abortion law. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wants to introduce abortion on demand, allowing women as young as 16 to have abortions without their parents' consent. Currently women may only terminate pregnancies in the predominantly Catholic country under specific circumstances.

This new law is a barbarity. In this country, they protect animals more than human beings

—Jose Carlos Felicidad, 67, retired naval technician

The 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) march contained members from 42 religious and civil society groups, with 600 buses and several planes used to bring anti-abortion supporters, according to organisers. The protest was also supported by the conservative opposition People's Party and the Roman Catholic Church.

The march started under a banner emblazoned with "Every Life Matters", and tens of thousands of supporters carried banners and flags with "For Life, Women and Motherhood" and "Women Against Abortion" and "Madrid 2009, Capital of Life", along the route to the Plaza de Independencia, where many more waited.

A spokesman for one of the rally organiser, HazteOir (Make Yourself Heard), reported that approximately 1.5 million people had participated in the rally and march. The Madrid regional government put the figures at around 1.2 million.

The supporters want the government to withdraw the draft law currently up for debate in the parliament in November, which would introduce abortion on demand within the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy, based on laws currently in place in most other European Union countries. It would replace Spain's law introduced in 1985, which allows abortion in cases of rape, when there are signs of foetal abnormality, or when a woman's physical or psychological health is at risk. This latter category has been used to justify 112,000 abortions in 2007, a majority of which occurred in Spain.

"This new law is a barbarity. In this country, they protect animals more than human beings," said Jose Carlos Felicidad, aged 67, a retired naval technician, who had come to the rally in Madrid from the town of Algeciras.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero spoke in defence of the draft law, saying the state should not "intervene in the free and private decision of a woman, who is the one who has to take on the responsibility of a pregnancy during her entire life." According to the government, the law is about respect and women's rights, and that alternatives will be explained first to anyone wishing to terminate a pregnancy. It also said that the new law will make abortion less dangerous, by making sure that the procedure is not done after 22 weeks.

The prime minister has passed a series of social reforms since he came to power in 2004. Among them were measures to legalise gay marriage, give more rights to transsexuals, and permit fast-track divorces.