Expatica news

Oye rubia: Aborting progress? An expat perspective

Tens of thousands of protesters from pro-life and religious organisations took to the streets of Madrid on 29 March to protest the liberalisation of Spain’s abortion laws.

The law, presented by the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, would grant increased legal protection to women who have an abortion and the doctors who carry out the procedure. It would also allow girls from the age of 16 to have an abortion without parental consent.

Perhaps because I grew up in a country where the pro-life/pro-choice debate is a perpetually hot topic, it was definitely noticeable that I heard very little about the subject in the news upon arriving in Spain in 2003.

There were no headlines about the bombing of abortion clinics; I never saw a pro-life organisation-sponsored truck driving around displaying an eight-foot-tall image of a mangled foetus, as I did in the States.

Licence to kill: A man holding a placard reading "007 Licence to kill"
during a demonstration to protest the government’s plans to
liberalise the abortion law in Madrid on 29 March 2009.

Indeed, Sunday’s march down calle Alcalá was the first mass protest against changes to Spain’s abortion law, which was first established in 1985.

Conversely, in the US, you’d be hard pressed to find a law that has caused more of a stir than Roe v Wade, the case that legalised abortion in 1973.

Although many nations regard the United States as forward-thinking and liberal, the conservative administration of George W Bush came precariously close to overturning the law. We too had – and continue to have – public demonstrations from supporters of both sides of the debate.

Although the decriminalisation of abortion is a relatively new standard in the Western world, the procedure itself is not. Women have been having abortions since prehistoric times.

If Zapatero’s government bends to pro-life pressure and chooses not to liberalise Spain’s abortion law, it will certainly not end abortions, or even decrease their numbers. This is the fatal flaw of the pro-life/pro-choice movement in the US, which is now being repeated here in Spain: the belief that making abortion illegal or hard to come by will make it cease to occur.

Think about it: it’s illegal to possess marijuana. So no one does that, right?

What WILL happen if abortions are not decriminalised and made anonymous is that women in Spain desperate for a solution will seek out dodgy clinics, or worse, attempt self-abortions using horrific methods such as drugs or homemade devices. It would be a public health crisis on a grand scale.

No better than endangered species: Spain’s Catholic Church launched
an anti-abortion poster featuring a baby beside an Iberian lynx cub,
a protected species in Spain, on which are the words
"Protect the lynx." Above the baby is the caption "And me?"

Maintaining more stringent, pro-life-oriented laws will simply decrease the number of informed, safe abortions that occur in a sterile setting.

As pro-life protesters argue, there are surely a select few women in any given country who “have no regard for human life” and carelessly attempt to use abortions as a form of birth control. No law can be based on that small percentage.

And, while it would be nice if every 16-year-old girl who finds herself pregnant could go to her parents and have an educated heart-to-heart about her medical options, that is not always the case. Spain’s laws must protect these young women and offer them the healthcare freedoms guaranteed to all Spanish citizens.

In a country that has progressed so far and so quickly since the end of a suffocating dictatorship, the current government’s proposed amendments are right in line with the achievements of the past 35 years.

Though Sunday’s protesters carried signs asking the government to “honour life”, their lack of support for the decriminalisation law does not honour the lives of the progressive citizens who worked to make Spain the forward-thinking country it is today.

3 April 2009

Kristen Bernardi / Expatica
photos credit: AFP

Kristen Bernardi is an American journalist living in Madrid. She has contributed to various travel publications including Fodor’s, TimeOut, The Insider’s Guide, Spain Magazine and InMadrid, and most recently assisted in 2008 Spanish presidential election coverage for CNN International. She is on a constant search for the perfect tortilla española, and will consider returning to US soil once the Pittsburgh Pirates make the World Series. Kristen writes a blog, Oye, rubia, on a wide range of topics for Expatica on fortnightly Fridays

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