Mass demonstrations have taken place in Spain and more widely in recent weeks against the new anti-abortion bill presented by the Spanish Conservative Party, the Partido Popular (PP). This misogynistic bill shows the conservative backlash against women’s freedom of choice and empowerment and also reflects profound paternalism towards women who are treated as if we could not control our lives and bodies.
‘El tren de la libertad’ (‘The Train of Freedom’) started its journey on 31 January 2014 in the northern city of Gijón destined for Madrid. Trains and buses from different areas of Spain and abroad joined together in the capital city to protest on 1 February against what could be one of the most restrictive laws for abortion in Europe. It wasn’t the first protest since the PP presented the bill draft in December 2013, but it marked the first and biggest co-ordinated protest from different parts of the country and abroad.
Other countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Ecuador have also hosted protests in solidarity with Spanish women. On 1 February in London a symbolic journey was made from Charing Cross Station to Waterloo East which end up decorating Hungerford Bridge with hangers, the symbol of illegal abortion. It was organised by My Belly is Mine, an initiative set up in the UK in support of Spanish women in their fight against the new anti-abortion bill. There is mobilisation against this bill throughout Europe but the media, especially outside Spain, is not reflecting the magnitude of the problem or the public response.
What could change if the bill is passed? The PP presented in December 2013 the changes to the current law, which permits free abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy (or until the 22nd week in serious cases). The bill is presented as the ‘Protection of the Life of the Conceived and Rights of the Pregnant Woman’, rather than the current ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Termination of the Pregnancy law’, thus changing the focus from women and their autonomy towards the foetus. This new bill would accept abortion in only two scenarios: rape or severe effects to the woman’s physical or psychological health. Moreover, the process to assess the latter would be complex, lengthy and problematic, requiring with the evaluation by two different health practitioners and a week of reflection for the woman.
The new bill is very unpopular in Spain; recent polls show that 70-80% of the Spanish population opposes to it, and it is even causing a division within the PP, with some PP politicians publicly criticising the proposed legislation. However, despite the disagreement, yesterday 11 February the PP voted as a disciplined block in a secret ballot in Parliament, rejecting the socialist party’s proposal to throw out the bill.
Meanwhile, this misogynistic bill is being fought creatively, from demonstrations, such as the parody procession in Málaga headed by a giant vulva, the ‘Santo Chumino Rebelde’ (‘Saint Rebellious Cunt’), to the creation of a platform for artists to share their pro-abortion art, which can be printed and freely used on the streets. A documentary is being made by more than sixty members of the Association of Female Filmmakers about the ‘Train of Freedom’ journey and protests around the world. Perhaps the most imaginative initiative took place on 5 February when several groups of women led by the artist Yolanda Domínguez registered the ownership of their bodies in the Property Registry.
Over the next few months the bill will jump through parliamentary hoops and everything seems to indicate that mobilisation against this widely-criticised bill will only increase. ¡No pasarán!