The Freedom Train

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!

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The Freedom Train

On the first of February this year, tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Madrid. They congregated to protest against the regressive antiabortion reform, proposed in December by the Spanish conservative government. Protesters came, not only from all over Spain, but from different parts of the world too. One group of women travelled by train to the Spanish capital from the Asturian city of Gijón, in the North of Spain. These women were responsible for the protest and gave it its name: The Freedom Train (El Tren de la libertad).

Protest against Spain’s antiabortion law in Madrid, 1 February 2014

The Asturian female collectives, Barredos Women for Equality (Mujeres por la Igualdad de Barredos) and The GodmothersFeminist Salon (Tertulia Feminista Les Comadres) were the women who decided one day to charter a train to Atocha station in Madrid. Their aim was to hand in a statement to the Spanish Parliament, asking for the antiabortion draft bill to be withdrawn. The statement was called I decide (Yo decido) and was addressed to the parliamentarians, to the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, and the Minister for Equality, Ana Mato.

Well-wishers wave goodbye to the women travelling to Madrid to protest against the proposed antiabortion legislation.

Spanish women travelling down to Madrid on ‘The Freedom Train’.

In Madrid, the Godmothers and Barredos Women were accompanied by a multitude of other feminist organisations, politicians, trade unions, supporters and members of the public. They all walked together to the Spanish Parliament, where they handed in their petition.

The women head towards the Spanish Parliament to hand in their petition, with the crowd behind them.

My Belly is Mine decided to echo the protests in Madrid via a symbolic train 2 Madrid journey. We wanted to show our support to protesters in Spain and raise awareness of the issue in the UK. We boarded a train in London at Charing Cross Station to Waterloo East and we proceeded to tie hangers -one of the symbols of illegal abortion- onto the Southbank’s iconic Hungerford Bridge.

A My Belly is Mine supporter protesting on 1 Feb 2014 against the Spanish antiabortion law

A My Belly is Mine supporter protesting on 1 Feb 2014 against the Spanish antiabortion law

Fellow Spanish feminist collective These Hysterical Women also protested in Edinburgh the same day. These Hysterical Women appear in the documentary of the protests which was filmed exclusively by Spanish female filmakers and is now available to watch free and online under the name Yo decido: El Tren de la libertad.

Protest in Edinburgh on the 1st of February in support of ‘The Freedom Train.’

“Because it’s my choice, I am free, and I live in a democracy, I demand from the government, any government, that it make laws that promote moral autonomy, preserve freedom of conscience, and guarantee plurality and diversity.

Because it’s my choice, I am free, and I live in a democracy, I demand the continuity of the current Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and pregnancy termination to promote the moral autonomy, to preserve the freedom of conscience, and to guarantee the plurality and diversity of all women.”

My Belly is Mine. I decide!