Read Rebecca’s blog on marching for choice in Ireland and Spain
October 01, 2014 at 8:47
Photo of March for Choice, 28th Sept 2014, Barcelona. Banner translates as "The right to decide about our own bodies."
I can’t tell you how much I wish I could have been in Dublin for the March for Choice on Saturday. Having spent the year researching and writing about the sheer inhumanity of Savita Halappanavar’s death and the utter joke of a political response to it, I knew all too well that it was only a matter of time before another tragedy would highlight the absurdity and cruelty of the Irish abortion regime. I don’t think any of us realised just how soon that would be. Within days of submitting my dissertation, news broke of the ‘Ms Y’ case. A, B, C v. Ireland, Miss D, the C Case, the X Case… I’m starting to wonder just how much of the alphabet we need to go through before things change.
The situation is somewhat different here in Spain, but a woman’s right to decide that, for whatever reason, she cannot go through with a pregnancy is still a precarious one at best. In 1985, abortion was decriminalised under three circumstances: in the case of a serious threat to the life, physical or mental health of the woman; in the case of rape, provided that the abortion is carried out within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and that the rape has been reported to the police; and in the case of severe foetal abnormalities, provided that the abortion is carried out within the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. In 2010, under the then-government, headed by the left-wing PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), this law was reformed to allow for abortion within the first fourteen weeks of pregnancy at a woman’s request. It also stipulated that minors did not require parental consent if there was reasonable proof that it would put her at risk of violence, threats, coercion, abuse or homelessness.
All of which sounds quite reasonable and compassionate to me, albeit still falling short of a law which fully trusts in and respects women’s ability to make an often difficult decision. However, following their victory in the 2011 general election, the conservative PP (Partido Popular or People’s Party) announced that they intended to revamp the 2010 law. ‘Mothers’ – not ‘women’ – who sought abortions were to be considered ‘victims’, and the procedure would only be legal in the case of rape or where there was a serious risk to the woman’s or foetus’s health. Foetal abnormalities would no longer be an acceptable justification for abortion. Not only that, women under 18 would require parental consent. According to the Minister for Justice Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, this was all because “We can’t allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother.” Such a statement is revelatory of deeply-entrenched beliefs about women and their bodies, primarily the belief that they should not and cannot exercise control over their own reproductive systems.
On the 23rd of September, just four days before the Irish March for Choice and five days before the International of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that the PP had scrapped the proposed bill to tighten up abortion legislation. This was primarily because it had proved to be so divisive within the party and had also prompted widespread societal protest. However, the government still intends to prevent minors from having abortions without parental consent.
Several thousand people attended each of the various marches and demonstrations held in 38 cities across Spain on Sunday. A sense of relief prevailed, but so too did the determination to keep fighting for a right that is still very much under attack. Between the relatively good news and the torrential rain, the turnout for the Barcelona ‘March for Choice’ was perhaps not what it could have been. Nonetheless, a not inconsiderable crowd amassed on Plaça Catalunya to walk down Via Laietana, one of the main avenues in the city. Umbrellas, banners, placards and posters were accompanied by chants that I unfortunately can’t remember that accurately due to my decidedly elementary Catalan. Still, I was there. I was one of several hundred, several thousand people from all over the world – young and old, all genders and none – who took part in a march at once solemn and celebratory, angry and triumphant, to continue fighting for a woman’s right to choose.