Federica Montseny Network

Repeating Histories: Irish and Spanish Prochoice Activism in London in the 80s and Now (VIDEO)

British, Spanish and Irish feminist prochoice collectives My Belly is Mine, the Spanish Women’s Assembly and Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. will perform a protest action on the 2nd of August in central London to raise awareness of the Spanish anti-abortion bill, known as Gallardón’s law. The bill is soon to be presented in the Spanish Parliament. The action will also officially launch the new Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group (SWASG 2.0), which aims to provide practical assistance for Spanish women travelling abroad to terminate pregnancies, should the bill be passed. This support group is the London branch of the International Federica Montseny Network, an initiative developed by Spanish feminists in Berlin.

Abortion Support Groups in London the 80s

This is not the first time a support group such as SWASG 2.0 has operated in London. Abortion Support Network currently helps many women from Ireland to have abortions in the UK each year. Abortion has never been decriminalised in the Irish Republic, whilst in Spain, abortion on request up till 14 weeks has only been available since 2010 and is now under threat by the antiabortion bill. In the early 80s, Ann Rossiter and Isabel Ros López, Irish and Spanish activists, both helped to set up the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group (IWASG) and the Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group (SWASG) respectively. In 1982, a staggering 21,000 women came from Spain to have abortions in England; over 8000 women came from Ireland, approximately 6000 of them from the Republic and the other 2000 from the six counties.

Prochoice campaigners now have the opportunity to hear Ann and Isabel explain why and how they set up the Irish and Spanish abortion support groups. The film Repeating Histories, produced by My Belly is Mine, Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A and the London Irish Feminist Network (LIFN), features Ann and Isabel in conversation at The Feminist Library. Ann remembers:

“With all these women coming… we wondered what in the hell we could do. And it’s important to say that this was very small scale. By today’s standards, things were quite primitive.”

In the film, Ann and Isabel share their experiences of volunteering in both support groups: they describe the organisation and the day to day of these support operations, how they managed to procure special deals for the women at clinics and raise funds; they tell too of the international spirit of cooperation of prochoice activists at that time. Ann also warns of the difficult decisions and financial costs Spanish women will have to bear if Gallardón’s antiabortion law is passed.

Repeating Histories: A New Wave of Irish and Spanish Prochoice Activism in London

Ann and Isabel often collaborate with Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. and My Belly is Mine in prochoice actions. Isabel is also an advisor to SWASG 2.o.  In fact, the name SWASG 2.o was chosen as a tribute to the work of Isabel and her colleagues. Not only national links are forged with this current wave of Irish and Spanish prochoice activism in the British capital, but also intergenerational ones.

For the 2 minute trailer of Repeating Histories, click here.

For the version with Spanish subtitles, click here.

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My Belly is Mine in the Spanish Press

El Ibérico is a fortnightly Spanish newspaper edited in the British capital. It featured Amanda Lundstedt, singer, activist and My Belly is Mine campaigner on the front page of today’s edition.

Amanda Lundstedt

Amanda Lundstedt, My Belly is Mine campaigner, on the front page of ‘El Ibérico’.

The picture was taken during our recent London underground protests against Gallardón’s antiabortion law, organised in conjunction with the Spanish Women’s Assembly. These protests feature in an article in El Ibérico that discusses the new abortion support network Red Federica Montseny set up in London by the Women’s Assembly. You can read more about the RFM network here.

New Abortion Support Group for Spanish Women in London

Spanish feminists are already setting up a support network in London for women affected by the notorious antiabortion law likely to be passed in Spain in August. The Spanish Women’s Assembly is a women only subgroup of the 15M Movement in London. They launched a mission statement this morning which details the ethics and goals of this support network, made up of women from the Assembly and volunteers. This support group is still in the early stages of planning but aims to provide direct assistance to women travelling to the UK for abortion.

The network is to be known as Red Federica Montseny in honour of the Spanish intellectual, anarchist and prochoice legislator Federica Montseny (1905-94), one of the first women in Europe to hold a position as a Cabinet Minister. The idea originally sprang from Feminismos, the Berlin based Women’s Assembly, which is also part of the 15M Movement. The network is composed of different ‘nodos’ (branches) such as Brussels, Lisbon, Paris, Vienna, Bordeaux and Stuttgart.

Federica Montseny

The British capital, however, will probably be the main destination for Spanish women seeking terminations when the antiabortion legislation is in effect. With this in mind, the London branch of the RFM is also to be known as SWASG 2.0 as a tribute to the support work carried out by Spanish women in this city in the 1980s when abortion was illegal in Spain.

Protests in Spain in the 1980s against the criminalisation of abortion.

The network is therefore also understood as a political statement that draws attention to the regressive nature of Gallardón’s antiabortion law and calls for women to be in full control of their bodies and reproductive choices.

Federica Montseny Network: Beginnings

In May 2014, Feminismos 15M Berlin, a Spanish feminist collective based in Berlin, and part of the 15M Movement of young Spanish exiles abroad, contacted all of its counterparts throughout Europe. They expressed the importance and aim of setting up a European support network for women in Spain, who may be forced to travel abroad for abortion, once the antiabortion law in Spain has been passed. Feminismos 15M Berlin have named the network after Federica Montseny (1905-94), a Spanish intellectual and anarchist and one of the first women in Europe to become a cabinet minister when she was appointed as Health Minister in 1936. Montseny was also renowned for her prochoice legislations.

Prochoice legislator and one of the first women in Europe to be appointed as a cabinet minister, Federica Montseny

Feminismos 15M Berlin pointed out that London is a key city in this network: an obvious destination, not only due to its proximity, the amount of low cost flights from Spain to the British capital, or the fact that English is a language most Spaniards have some familiarity with but also: London was a notorious destination for Spanish women in the 70s and 80s seeking terminations.

Front page of the very first edition of El País Magazine (1976), featuring the report “Abortion in London”

The Spanish Women’s Assembly in London has taken on the responsibility of creating the corresponding support network in the British capital for women in Spain who are forced to travel for an abortion. It is an important responsibility and one that they are taking very seriously. They have already met with a representative of Abortion Support Network to learn more about their working model and how this charity supports the almost 5000 women a year who travel to the UK from Ireland for terminations.

The Spanish Women’s Assembly are in the phase of early planning and fundraising for the network. And we will be documenting the history of the network on this blog. Unlike the fake travel agency offering “abortion packages” to London, the Federica Montseny Network is not a hoax. It exemplifies the sad reality that Spanish women will face if Gallardón’s antiabortion law is passed in Spain.