This weekend, tens of thousands of Spaniards rallied against the country’s proposed abortion restrictions, in what was perhaps the largest protest yet since the legislation was approved by the governing party in December. As the conservative government is attempting to roll back reproductive rights, protesters have taken to the streets with banners declaring “Because I Decide,” “Allow Mothers To Decide,” and “Mothers And Fathers In Freedom.”
Since 2010, Spanish women have had legal abortion rights up to 14 weeks for elective procedures, and up to 22 weeks in cases of fetal abnormality. But the Popular Party, which currently maintains control of the government, has promised to undo that. Under the new proposal, women seeking an abortion would need to get approval from two different medical professionals who can verify that the pregnancy either resulted from rape, or poses extreme physical or mental health risks to the woman. There is no exception for fetal health issues.
Women’s groups in the country have decried the move to drag Spain backward, pointing out that the country is set to enact the most stringent abortion ban in the region. A coalition of the country’s abortion clinics estimate that about 100,000 of the 118,000 abortions carried out last year would be made illegal under the new measure.
“In the rest of Europe, where previously many viewed us as an example of freedom and civil rights, now, they are questioning us, asking what on earth we are doing,” one of the protesters, Cristina Bermejo, pointed out.
“We overcame this a long time ago, and we have a right to have abortion performed under proper conditions without risking women’s lives and their health,” another demonstrator, Ana Alonso, told BBC News.
More than 300 activist groups were involved in Saturday’s protest, during which thousands of people marched to Spain’s parliament building. A separate protest took place in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower. The new abortion restrictions still need approval from the country’s parliament — but, since the Popular Party holds the majority there, they’re expected to pass sometime this spring.
Spain is still heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, which has backed the proposed abortion restrictions. An estimated 70 percent of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholic. A different Catholic nation, Ireland, sparked international outrage in 2012 after a 31-year-old woman died after being denied an emergency abortion. That controversy led Ireland to slightly loosen its restrictions on the procedure, but not by much. The countries with the harshest bans on abortion are mostly concentrated in Latin America.