Gallardon’s Law

Justice Minister Gallardón Not Backing Down

Spanish media was awash this weekend with articles stating that the country’s antiabortion draft bill had been shelved. Even The Guardian caught wind of the news, despite the fact that the Spanish abortion bill has been largely conspicuous by its absence in British media since the proposed legislation was announced in December 2013. For a man as arrogant as the Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, whose personal mission (and obsession) was the abortion reform, it must have been a humiliating experience. Prochoice and feminist organisations in Spain and abroad celebrated the news on Twitter and Facebook.

And then amid the celebrations, sources from within the Spanish Justice Ministry reported being absolutely unaware of any annulment of the bill. “We are seeking the maximum consensus within the party and finalising the details of the final draft”, a Justice spokesperson confidently stated.

Gallardón: undermined by Rajoy and his own party

Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón

It seems government sources had leaked Prime Minister Rajoy’s intention to halt the bill’s process, a decision that was made without consulting the Justice Minister. Rajoy is uneasy about the bill’s unpopularity and does not want it affecting the Popular Party’s upcoming electoral campaign. It is clear that Gallardón has been seriously undermined by  Rajoy and other key members within his own party. Indeed, the Spanish right-wing newspaper ABC reported yesterday that Gallardón plans to step down if the abortion bill is withdrawn, a development he apparently communicated himself to the newspaper. ABC then updated its article by stating that Gallardón would make the decision as regards to his political career in a week. Moreover, just a few hours ago, the Spanish daily El Mundo reported Gallardón’s intention to discuss the abortion reform next week as he is currently very busy with Catalonia’s “sovereignty” issues.

Isolated within his own party and seriously undermined by the Prime Minister, Gallardón is scrambling to figure out how to save face. Watch this space to follow the latest developments and see what moves are the next he makes.

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A Great Victory for Prochoice Activism

We did it! When My Belly is Mine was formed at the very beginning of this year, our objective was to stop the Spanish antiabortion draft bill proposed by the conservative Popular Party (also known as the People’s Party) from being presented in parliament. If enacted, this reform would have taken Spain back 30 years in terms of reproductive rights. We worked hard to raise awareness of this threat. We echoed the major demos in Spain, alongside other protesters in European capitals and in cities across the world. Indeed, we were just one of the many many voices in Spain and abroad that clamoured against the bill. The Spanish press finally reported this weekend that the proposed abortion reform has been shelved due to a lack of consensus within the party. Congratulations and thanks to every single person who took to the streets and shouted out against the bill! We won!

The Freedom Train protests in Madrid on the 1 Feb. My Belly is Mine echoed this protest in London.

“A discriminatory and regressive bill”

The Spanish Council of Ministers adopted the bill, known as “the organic law for the protection of the life of the conceived and the rights of the pregnant woman” on the 20th of December 2013. The bill ensured abortion was illegal in most cases. In fact, the initial draft of the bill even suggested banning abortion in cases of fetal malformation. This turned out to be one of the most controversial aspects of the bill, creating disagreement even within the ranks of the People’s Party, the conservative party with a majority in government that was proposing the reform. The human rights organisation Amnesty International called the bill “discriminatory and regressive” and pointed out that it “proposes humiliating and unrealistic barriers for women and girls to overcome before they can access a legal and safe abortion.”

“Nobody can force motherhood upon a woman”

“The abortion law has been aborted” Illustration by Jesús AG

As reported on this blog, the Spanish Justice Minister Gallardón was the main force behind this regressive bill, which was to be known unofficially as Gallardón’s Law. Gallardón repeatedly claimed to have Prime Minister Rajoy’s total support for the bill. It was no surprise that the political left in Spain came together to vehemently oppose the draft bill, yet it would be his own party and Rajoy that would bring about the Justice Minister’s undoing. Privately Gallardón garnered support from party members yet in public few supported him. The regional leader José Antonio Monago was the first to criticise the bill by stating “nobody can force motherhood upon a woman”. As protests mounted and the unpopularity of the bill became evident, other regional leaders began to fear for their own political careers.

Dissent Behind the Scenes

Gallardón continued to defend his reform as he became increasingly isolated within his own political party. Throughout the summer, the presentation of the bill in parliament was continually postponed. Gallardón talked of busy schedules and conflicting agendas. The Spanish press, however, surmised the bill was being stalled behind the scenes. Protests continued, maintaining the pressure. My Belly is Mine organised an intense summer campaign in conjunction with Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A and the 15M Spanish Women’s Assembly: we protested on two occasions outside the Spanish Embassy, once in the London Underground and once outside City Hall.

The Spanish Women's Assembly at a recent joint protest.

The Spanish Women’s Assembly at a recent joint protest.

The American author and activist Alice Walker said that activism was the rent she paid for living on the planet. Going to a protest, taking a banner, signing a petition, shouting out…this does all make a difference: always make your voice heard!

Spanish Women in Limbo Over Abortion Law

“No insult will deter me from my commitment to protect the rights of the unborn”, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón defiantly stated in February this year. This statement came two months after the Spanish Government announced its proposal to amend the country’s current abortion law in order to implement an almost blanket ban on pregnancy terminations. Despite continual protests against the bill organized by feminist and prochoice organizations in major Spanish cities and towns, manifestos defending a woman’s right to choose, condemnation by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, and surveys expressing the Spanish population’s unhappiness with the proposed antiabortion law, Gallardón remained steadfast in his determination to pass the regressive draft bill.

Spanish Justice Minister, Albert Ruíz-Gallardón

An Unpopular Bill

However, as reported on this blog, the Spanish Cabinet has had at least four clear opportunities to present the bill in parliament for debate and voting. On these four occasions (the 25th of June, the 1st and 8th of July and the 1st of August) the bill was conspicuous by its absence in Cabinet meetings. Gallardón claimed the delay was caused by the Presidency and Vice-presidency’s office, which is responsible for setting the Cabinet’s agenda. Spanish media, on the other hand, speculated members within Gallardón’s own party, the conservative ruling People’s Party (Partido Popular), were stalling the bill due to an unwillingness to endanger their own political careers on such controversial legislation.

Toying with the Rights of Women in Spain

The Spanish Government’s next Cabinet meeting is Friday 29th of August, the first after the summer recess. Political analysts explain that the bill must be passed on this date or early September to avoid it coinciding with the Popular Party‘s electoral campaign in the upcoming autonomic and municipal elections in May 2015. Otherwise the bill will most definitely be postponed until the general election in November 2015. Women in Spain, feminist and prochoice organizations remain hopeful yet vigilant. The Madrid Feminist Assembly stated it was tired of the Government toying with the rights of women and has organised a national protest for the 28th of September, the global day for action for access to safe and legal abortion. My Belly is Mine will be supporting this action alongside other prochoice organizations in an event in London, soon to be announced.

Spot the Difference: Spain’s Antiabortion Bill

The numbers speak for themselves: in 1985, 17,688 abortions were performed on Spanish women in Britain. Many of these women travelled to London for the procedure. The costs were prohibitive. So what of the women that were left behind? Women without the financial means, the social networks…the wherewithal to allow them to travel to Britain? What of the women and children who had irregular migratory status, the women and girls who were victims of rape, of domestic abuse? Where did they go when abortion was illegal in Spain?

Front page of El País Magazine (1976), with a report on travelling to London for an abortion.

This is a horrifying situation in which to find oneself. And it is a situation that will be repeated if the current antiabortion bill is passed as law in Spain. Human rights organisation Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned the bill. Amnesty has stated the bill is discriminatory, retrogressive and will violate the human rights of women and girls and put their lives at risk. The organisation says:

If enacted, the Spanish draft bill will result in an increase in the number of women and girls who resort to illegal, unsafe and clandestine procedures, risking their health and lives. The bill proposes humiliating and unrealistic barriers for women and girls to overcome before they can access a legal and safe abortion.

The UK and other EU countries will most likely face a surge of Spanish women seeking abortion if the procedure is outlawed in their own country. Remember: restrictive abortion laws do not equal fewer abortions; on the contrary, when abortion is illegal, women die or they flee elsewhere. The problem is simply hidden, never resolved.

final english2

Figures taken from Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora by Ann Rossiter.

Spain’s Antiabortion Law: Hope on the Horizon

A tiny shred of hope has appeared on the horizon for women and prochoice campaigners battling against the draconian antiabortion bill in Spain. The main force behind the bill, Justice Minister Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón, appears to be increasingly isolated in his determination to pass the bill as law.

The bill has suffered a number of unexplained delays in its parliamentary process and is yet to appear on the Cabinet’s agenda. Indeed, at the end of June, the draft bill was ready for its presentation in parliament: reviewed by all the consultational bodies and having gone through its final revisions, the bill’s presentation was initially scheduled for the 27th of June but was postponed for a week. The bill has been postponed a further two times since then.

Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón with the Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Sources within Gallardón’s own political party, the rightwing Partido Popular, recently claimed that some party members are concerned with the bill’s unpopularity and have pledged to stall it as much as they can. In an attempt to save face, Gallardón was adamant the Ministry of Justice would not allow the draft bill to be shelved. ‘The legislative agenda is not determined by individual departments but rather by the Presidency and Vice-presidency’s office which coordinates all the different ministries.’ stated Gallardón, placing the responsibility for the delays onto Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

Gallardón neither confirmed nor denied that the law would be discussed at today’s cabinet meeting, although it seems unlikely this will be case. The 1st of August remains the only date to pass the law and as of yet there is no indication the bill is scheduled for discussion that day either.

Motherhood is a right, not an obligation.

Motherhood is a right, not an obligation.

These latest developments are undoubtedly positive ones for women in Spain. Time is running out for the Partido Popular:  in order to meet the legislative deadlines in 2014 and thus avoid the Spanish electoral campaign in 2015, this very controversial bill needs to be presented in parliament before September if it is to become law. Prochoice campaigners in Spain and beyond cannot afford to rest on their laurels: on the contrary, they must increase the pressure to ensure the bill is stopped in its tracks in the coming months.

Spanish Justice Minister: “Abortion law will go through this summer”

Spain’s controversial antiabortion draft bill will be passed as law this summer, according to the Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. “I’m able to say that the law will be passed before the end of the summer”, Gallardón stated.

The draft bill, proposed by Spain’s conservative ruling party -the Partido Popular, was initially scheduled to be debated in parliament on the 27th of June. It was postponed twice and it now seems unlikely it will be debated, as was expected, on the 1st of August. “Summer ends in September”, Gallardón added, implying that the draft bill may be on the agenda of the next cabinet meeting on the 29th of August.

“Don’t stop breeding” by Mónica López Garbayo

However, these delays are good news for prochoice campaigners: the longer the parliamentary process is drawn out, the less probable it is the bill will be approved. 2015 is election year in Spain and the regional leaders and mayors are unwilling to risk their political careers on this unpopular bill. Only yesterday, prior to a meeting at the Ministry of Health, government representatives from Asturias, Andalusia, the Basque Country, the Canary Islands and Catalonia renewed demands for the bill’s withdrawal.

My Belly is Mine believes prochoice groups must keep up the pressure to ensure the bill is postponed for as long as possible. Indeed, despite confident press statements, Gallardón’s (almost obsessive) determination in passing one of the most restrictive laws of Spain’s democracy is leaving him increasingly isolated.

Prochoice people: Keep up the fight!

Antiabortion Draft Bill to be Approved in Summer

The antiabortion draft bill, known as Gallardón’s law, has eventually been revised and edited by the Ministry of Justice and is now ready to be submitted to the Spanish parliament, according to a report by Europa Press. The text is awaiting the approval of the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, after which it will be passed to the Cabinet.

As we reported on this blog, the draft bill had been unexpectedly postponed earlier this month. The bill was due to be ratified twice during the first half of July. The first attempt on the 4th of July was designed to coincide with an antichoice conference in Madrid. Justice Minister Gallardón’s surprising last-minute absence from the conference and the delay to which the bill was subjected for no apparent reason, led some party members to believe that the law would not be passed.

Spanish Justice Minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón

The bill’s controversy amongst the Spanish population is such that it is viewed as a serious obstacle in the PP’s electoral campaign for the next general election in 2015 and one of the main reasons the bill should be postponed until well after the 2015 pre-campaign. The bill has prompted discord even within the ranks of the PP (Partido Popular-Spain’s conservative ruling party) itself.

According to Europa Press, sources within the PP have stated that they were actively involved in the bill’s delay in July and would prefer its presentation in parliament to be postponed for as long as possible. They will attempt to drag out the bill’s parliamentary process as much as they can.

An electoral pledge

On the other hand, the antiabortion draft bill was one of the PP’s electoral pledges and it has many supporters within the party. Some members propose an even more extreme version of the draft law which would mean abortion being banned even in cases of rape or severe foetal deformity. Whilst this radical group within the party is willing to concede that such a bill would never be approved and they accept the draft law in its current state, they have however vouched to rebel against party leaders if Gallardón’s bill is not ratified at some point.

Bill to be approved day before summer recess

Following the bill’s failure to reach parliament on both the 4th and 11th of July, other sources have assured the bill will be with the Cabinet before the end of the month. The 1st of August is touted as the preferred date, as it will be the last Cabinet meeting before summer recess and therefore a “perfect day” to ratify the bill as Spain will predominantly be on holiday.

Irish and Spanish Prochoice Activism: a Shared Legacy

The Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group (IWASG) was established in the early 80s to assist women coming to the UK from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland seeking abortions. Much of the group’s work, which lasted around 20 years, was conducted undercover. Author and feminist, Ann Rossiter is one of the founding members of the IWASG and she documents the its history in her book Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: The ‘Abortion Trail’ and the Making of a London-Irish Underground, 1980-2000.

Ann Rossiter’s book ‘Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora’ documents the IWASG’s history.

The charity Abortion Support Network continues with the work initiated by the IWASG, helping around 400o women from Ireland (90o of which are resident in Northern Ireland) a year to have abortions in England and Wales.

In Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora, Ann writes:

About the same time as IWASG was formed, a sister organisation, the Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group (SWASG), was set up. Both IWASG and SWASG emerged out of debates, often taking place collectively, where Irish and Spanish feminists in London decided to do something practical about the plight of abortion seekers from their respective countries. In the Spanish case, it was a response to the arrival of several hundred Spanish ‘tourists’ at London airports every week. […] in 1985 there were 17,688 abortions performed on Spanish women in Britain […].

From 1981 until 1984, IWASG and SWASG worked together from the same office. There were two part-time paid members of staff dedicated to abortion support work. Iris Lyle, a Spanish speaking-woman from Northern Ireland, recalling her experience as a member of these groups, says:

Many of the women [abortion seekers] didn’t know any English and required help with more or less everything. […] The Spanish women would be very upset over the great secrecy, all the scheming they had to do. They were in a terrible state. When the abortion was over, it was like a great wight was lifted off them.

Isabel Ros López, a Spanish feminist who came to the UK in 1978, also did both Irish and Spanish abortion support work. Isabel explains:

If a woman was ringing us out of the blue without having consulted a doctor or counsellor in either Ireland or Spain, we would provide a full service for her, including arranging accommodation, whether in a B&B or with an IWASG or SWASG member. […] We would then book an appointment for a consultation and counselling at the clinic.

Isabel adds that due to the covertness of abortion support work, the IWASG was referred to by the codename Imelda. Indeed, the Irish government had implemented a ban on information in 1987. By using the codename, women could seek help and information about abortion without fear of being prosecuted.

Why is all this relevant to My Belly is Mine as a campaign?

Firstly, Ann Rossiter is still campaigning for abortion rights in Ireland today. Furthermore, Ann is now part of Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A., a direct action feminist performance group that seeks to challenge the ongoing problem of Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion. The “Imeldas” often collaborate with My Belly is Mine, thus thirty odd years after the foundation of the IWASG and SWASG, Spanish and Irish women continue to work together on prochoice campaigns.

Ann Rossiter, one of the founders of IWASG, at a My Belly is Mine protest on 1 Feb, 2014.

Ann Rossiter, one of the founders of IWASG, at a My Belly is Mine protest on 1 Feb, 2014.

Isabel Ros López is also still an activist. Naturally, Isabel is deeply concerned by the Spanish government’s recent proposal to ban abortion. Having closely witnessed the times during which abortion was illegal in Spain, Isabel has been able to provide guidance to the members of the Spanish Women’s Assembly on how to provide support and assistance to Spanish women seeking abortion in London, should the antiabortion bill be passed as law. Isabel has also been a speaker at a number of My Belly is Mine protests too.

Active in the 80s, Isabel thought Spain would never return to the days of backstreet abortions

Isabel Ros López at the joint protest organised by My Belly is Mine and the Spanish Women’s Assembly at the Spanish Embassy, London on 27 June 2014.

It is under worrying circumstances that young Irish and Spanish women in London today have found they have a shared history.

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the IWASG and the SWASG, Ann’s book is the best source of information. We will be writing more about the SWASG, its work and its relationship with the IWASG in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, click here for an interview with Ann Rossiter.

More Photos from our London Underground Protests

Here’s a further selection of photographs from the joint protest between My Belly is Mine and the Spanish Women’s Assembly against the Spanish antiabortion law.

The protests were on the 3rd and 4th of July, to coincide with the antichoice conference that was taking place in Madrid those same days. The photographer is Rocío, from the Spanish Women’s Assembly.

Online reports of our London underground protests

We are pleased to report that our recent London Underground protests with the Spanish Women’s Assembly against the Spanish abortion law were picked up by various websites and circulated widely on social media.

London Underground Protest

London Underground Protest

  • We also featured in the Abortion Rights Campaign monthly roundup. You should check out their fabulous campaign while you are at it.

  • rs21 wrote a short article on the protests, which some of their members participated in. We are grateful for their participation.