More than a million people took to the streets of Madrid yesterday to protest Spanish government plans to introduce abortion on demand. A sea of protesters staged an early evening march across the city behind a huge banner reading CADA VIDA IMPORTA ("Every life matters") to protest the Bill, which would allow girls of 16 to undergo abortions without their parents' consent. According to Reuters it was the largest public demonstration since the anti-war protests of 2003. Video (in Spanish) here.
The march was organised by 42 civil-society organizations coordinated by the Spanish Family Forum. It was an impressive display of what the pro-life movement is capable of when it unites behind simple powerful messages. It was festive, youthful, passionate; it had a very simple but compelling message centred on the rights of the innocent, as well as a strong democratic argument that such a radical reform of the abortion law requires a social consensus lacking in this case.
In the UK, as so often elsewhere, the pro-life movement too often divides into powerless little factions at war with each other, rendering itself incapable of the kind of mass conscience-shaking exercise that was so vivid in Madrid. Pro-lifers should study it and learn its lessons.
Among the speakers was Eduardo Verastegui, the Mexican soap actor (profile here) behind the indie film Bella. There were powerful testimonies from the stage by women who had aborted and now regretted it, and others who had thought about it but not gone ahead and were grateful. A young Honduran woman said a priest had persuaded her to have her child, and now he's "the best company I could want".
The 'Every Life Matters' march was inevitably political: dozens of deputies from the conservative Partido Popular, including ex-prime minuister Jose Maria Aznar, were prominent, as were slogans aimed at the socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero, which has been aggressive in its dismantling of Catholic priorities in education, stem-cell research and now abortion.
The proposed law, approved by the cabinet last month, would allow the procedure on demand for women of 16 and over up to the 14th week of pregnancy, and up to 22 weeks if there was a risk to the mother's health or if the foetus was deformed.
Spain decriminalized abortion in 1985, but with very strong restrictions: up to 12 weeks of pregnancy after a rape, up to 22 weeks in the case of malformation of the foetus, and at any point if the pregnancy represents a threat to the physical or mental health of the woman. Abortions for social reasons have therefore been technically prohibited -- although the majority of women who have them (about 100,000 a year, and rising) get round the restrictions by going to private clinics, which claim that the pregnancy poses a "psychological risk" to the mother.
The Socialist government believes it has the numbers to get the law through -- probably early next year. Public opinion is heavily divided, with a majority narrowly opposing.