Spanish Women’s Assembly in London

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!

Migrant X is Not a Vessel: My Belly is Mine at the Irish Embassy

My Belly is Mine attended the protest yesterday evening outside the Irish Embassy in London. The protest was co-organized by Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. and Abortion Rights East London to demonstrate against the barbaric treatment at the hands of the Irish Government of the woman known as Migrant X, a non-Irish citizen who was pregnant as a consequence of rape. According to reports, the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons,  sought an abortion early this summer under a clause in the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, saying that she was suicidal.

The case was referred to a panel of three experts — an obstetrician and two psychiatrists. The psychiatrists determined that Migrant X had suicidal thoughts, but the obstetrician overruled their decision by stating the pregnancy was viable. The unnamed woman, who is only 18, went on hunger strike and was eventually forced to give birth via a caesarean section.

My Belly is Mine attended in solidarity with the women of Ireland and performed alongside activists Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.

Speakers at the protest included: Jo Tacon from Abortion Rights East London, Mara Clarke from Abortion Support Network, Ann Rossiter from Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A., Mairead Enright from Lawyers for Choice, and Cristina Ríos from My Belly is Mine. Cristina spoke of the cooperation between Irish and Spanish prochoice activists in London historically and at present. Indeed, there was a strong presence of Spanish women in the crowd, mostly from the Spanish Women’s Assembly.

My Belly is Mine has signed the statement by Reproductive Health Matters, calling on the Irish Government to repeal the 8th Amendment and to replace the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act with a law that prioritises women’s health and rights.

Here are some photos by Luca Neve and by Heather Blockey of the protest. More photos and a video to come.

Our Summer Campaign Continues…

Yesterday, we protested in central London once more against the barbaric antiabortion law proposed by the Spanish government. The action was jointly organized by My Belly is Mine, the Spanish Women’s Assembly and Irish prochoice activists Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. and took place beside one of London’s most iconic bridges, Tower Bridge, opposite the Tower of London.

Yesterday’s action is the fourth co-organized by Spanish, Irish and British activists as part of an intense summer campaign to protest against the Spanish antiabortion draft bill from London. Previously, we protested during the British Spanish Society’s summer reception at the Spanish Embassy in Belgravia, on the 27th of June  -again in front of the Spanish Embassy, and in the London Underground.

Our protests will continue until the law is withdrawn.

Photography: Elisa and Andrea (Spanish Women’s Assembly)

Nuestra campaña de verano continúa…

Ayer protestamos de nuevo en pleno centro de Londres contra el anteproyecto de Gallardón. La protesta, realizada conjuntamente por la Asamblea de mujeres del 15M de Londres, las activistas irlandesas Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. y My Belly is Mine, se desarrolló al lado de uno de los puentes más emblemáticos de la ciudad, el Puente de la Torre (Tower Bridge), un puente levadizo que cruza el río Támesis y que se sitúa cerca de la Torre de Londres, la que le da su nombre.

Esta cuarta acción es la última de una intensa campaña veraniega organizada conjuntamente por activistas españolas, irlandesas y británicas para protestar en contra de la ley Gallardón desde la capital británica. Previamente nos manifestamos ante la embajada española en Londres durante la fiesta de la Asociación hispano-británica, el 27 de junio, y en el metro de Londres.

Las protestas continuarán hasta la retirada del anteproyecto.

Fotografías: Elisa y Andrea (Asamblea de mujeres)

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.

My Belly is Mine in the Spanish Media

Spanish daily El Mundo reported last week on the new abortion support network Red Federica Montseny set up in London by Spanish feminists. The network will assist those women in Spain affected by the antiabortion leglislation which may be passed this summer.

My Belly is Mine campaigner Amanda Lundstedt appears in the article’s main photograph, which was taken during our London Underground protests.

Amanda

You can find the article here.

Our joint protests in the London Underground with the Spanish Women’s Assembly also appeared in the evening news last night by broadcaster La Sexta. Isabel Ros López, an active member of the Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group  (SWASG) in London in the 80s and Vicky Barambones, a current member of the new network Federica Montseny, are both interviewed in this news item. Go to minute 29.52 for the report.

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.

London Underground Protest Video: Free to Decide

Here’s the video for the joint protest organised by My Belly is Mine and the Spanish Women’s Assembly on the 3rd and 4th of July to coincide with an antichoice conference hosted in Madrid. We demand the antiabortion draft bill be withdrawn and that women be free to decide.

Thanks to David from 15M London Assembly for such a great job with the filming!

 

Friends of My Belly is Mine: Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.

My Belly is Mine have collaborated on a number of actions with direct-action feminist performance group Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A., including one in which we targeted the English Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. The “Imeldas” are supporting My Belly is Mine‘s joint campaign with the Spanish Women’s Assembly against the Spanish abortion reform.

One of the members of Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A explains the collective’s work and aims:

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A seeks to challenge the ongoing problem of Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion. We operate against the shaming and silencing of women living in the north and south of Ireland who have had abortions in England. The name Imelda was used as a code-name by the approximately 6,000 women who travelled to England for abortions between 1986 and 1995. The code-name was necessary since the Information Cases in the Republic of Ireland in 1986 made it a criminal offence to travel abroad for an abortion and to provide information and referrals for abortion services.

Since 1995, an average of 12 women a day have continued to travel from Ireland, north and south, to England for abortions. Apart from the considerable expense and stress of having to travel abroad for a medical procedure, these women are often denied follow-up after-care. In addition, in 2013, the Republic of Ireland implemented a 14-year prison sentence for women who have abortions in Ireland illegally. This has dire consequences for women who take pro-abortive medication because they cannot afford to travel or are not permitted to leave the country.

We want women in the north and south of Ireland, and women across the world, to have control over their own bodies and access to safe and legal medical services to support their choices. In speaking the name I.M.E.L.D.A. we wish to act in solidarity with those who seek to counteract the inhumanity of state legislation, which denies women the right to choose what happens to their own bodies and in their own lives. Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A is based in London. We do not represent anyone but ourselves. We exist in solidarity with pro-choice groups in Ireland and throughout the world who fight draconian patriarchal regimes.

Two of the Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. actions we’ve undertaken in 2014:

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, we interrupted a conference at the Camden Irish Centre.

This conference was titled Dissonant Voices: Faith and the Irish Diaspora. It was led by a group of Catholic clerics who see themselves as ‘radical,’ as well as ‘politically and socially engaged.’ In interrupting the conference, we aimed to highlight how ‘radical social engagement’ should include the right of women to choose what happens to their own bodies and in their own lives. The differing reactions of conference attendees demonstrate how our action did motivate them to engage with the reality of I.M.E.L.D.A. and of reproductive justice for women. There’s also a radio interview on this (coverage starts at 6.55).

Jeremy Hunt can make it easier for women from Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortions in England.

On May 26th, we visited the English Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Jeremy Hunt, in a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Surrey in order to speak of a recent High Court Ruling which unfairly discriminated against all women from Northern Ireland. The ruling maintained that these women are not entitled to obtain abortions for free under the NHS in England, despite the fact that these women are residents and/or citizens of the United Kingdom. We emphasized to Mr Hunt that it is extremely clear from the High Court ruling that it is within his power as Secretary of State for Health to make it easier for women from Northern Ireland to access safe and legal abortions in England. In doing so, Mr Hunt and the English government would show support for full reproductive justice for women in Northern Ireland.

And we ate some red apples in front of Jeremy Hunt to symbolically affirm the right of women all over the world to bodily integrity and to determine their own life-path..