Thousands protest in Madrid against abortion

As Spain's government prepares a law allow guaranteed access to abortion in public hospitals, thousands marched in the capital to voice their opposition.

Demonstrators take part in the anti-abortion march in Madrid.
Demonstrators take part in the anti-abortion march in Madrid. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Thousands of people marched though Madrid on Sunday to protest against abortion, as Spain’s leftist government prepares a law to guarantee access to the procedure at public hospitals.

Carrying signs that read “Abortion is not right” and chanting “More respect for life”, demonstrators walked through the centre of the Spanish capital to Cibeles square in central Madrid where a manifesto was read aloud.

“There are other alternatives. After an abortion there is always trauma but that is not talked about,”  said Yolanda Torosio, a 44-year-old secretary who attended the protest with her daughter.

The protest was organised by the “Yes to Life” platform which estimated that some 20,000 people took part. The central government’s representative in Madrid put the number of marchers at about 9,000.

The crowd included parents pushing strollers, retired couples and groups of youths, some carrying Spanish flags.

While Spain decriminalised abortion in 1985, women in the predominantly Catholic country still face obstacles when choosing to terminate a pregnancy since many doctors refuse to care out the procedure.

According to the OMC Spanish doctors’ association, “most” obstetrician-gynaecologists who work in the public sector consider themselves “conscientious objectors” and refuse to carry out abortions.

As a result women in some regions must travel hundreds of kilometres for an abortion because there is no private clinic nearby and the local hospital will not perform them.

Socialist Prime Pedro Sanchez’s government is preparing a law to ensure that all public hospitals perform abortions, and wants to ban protests outside of abortion clinics as “harassment”.

IT also wants to modify the law so minors of 16 and 17 can terminate a pregnancy without their parents’ consent, as is the case in Britain and France.

Polls show a majority of Spaniards are in favour of keeping the country’s existing abortion laws, which allow the procedure on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. 

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Huge crowds expected in Barcelona ahead of Madrid talks

Catalan separatists are expected to jam the streets of Barcelona on Saturday in a test of their strength ahead of fresh negotiations with Spain's government.

Huge crowds expected in Barcelona ahead of Madrid talks
Huge crowds turned out to a protest in Barcelona on September 11th, Catalonia's national day, in 2019. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

The protest coincides with Catalonia’s national day, or “Diada”, which commemorates the 1714 fall of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession and the region’s subsequent loss of institutions.

As in other years, the march will get underway at 17:14 (1514 GMT) — a nod to the year 1714. The slogan this year is: “We will fight for independence and win”.

At its peak in 2014, the annual demonstration brought an estimated 1.8 million people onto the streets.

While Catalonia was the epicentre in July of a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections, the situation has since improved and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people was recently lifted.

READ ALSO: Is Catalonia’s independence movement down but not out?

Jordi, the leader of grassroots separatist movement Omnium Cultural, said he hoped to “bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets” this year to “prove once again that our movement is more alive than ever”.

But much has changed since the frenetic autumn of 2017 when Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain triggered the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

Leaders of the wealthy northeastern region, which has a population of 7.8 million, defied a government ban to organise a secession referendum and then issued a short-lived declaration of independence.

Those behind the move were arrested, tried and sentenced to long jail terms by Spain’s top court, while others fled abroad to avoid prosecution, leaving the movement sharply at odds over how to move forward.

The Spanish government’s pardon in June of nine Catalan separatist leaders, including Cuixart, has also removed a rallying cry for the pro-independence camp.

Only 600,000 people turned out for the Diada in 2019. Last year, coronavirus-related health restrictions reduced the celebrations to separate events which drew fewer than 60,000 people.

This year’s protest comes as top-level talks on resolving the Catalan crisis are set to resume next week between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority government and the separatist regional government of Catalonia.

The separatists have two key demands — an amnesty for those involved in the failed independence bid, which would exonerate those who fled abroad, and a referendum on self-determination, this time with Spain’s approval.

But Madrid is implacably opposed to both.

Tensions rose sharply this week after Spain’s central government suspended plans to expand Barcelona airport, citing a “lack of confidence” in Catalonia’s regional leadership.

Catalonia’s regional leader Pere Aragones denounced the suspension as “blackmail”.