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Fighting for reproductive justice in the Spanish State

Marta Castillo Segura

May 1, 2014

In the context of economic crisis, the Spanish State is attacking abortion rights. But there are growing movements against austerity and for reproductive justice. Marta Castillo Segura, an activist in Seville, explains the attacks and the growing resistance.
History of abortion laws
Illegal abortion used to be one of the main causes of death of women in the Spanish State. In 1937, during the revolution, abortion was decriminalized for the first time in Catalonia. The most advanced abortion law in Europe was approved, allowing women to choose interrupting their pregnancy in the first 12 weeks. Minister of Public Health Federica Montseny managed to apply this law in the areas where the republicans had the government.
But the victory of the fascists in the civil war ended all the social progress made by the Second Republic. After all the darkness of the dictatorship, and thanks to the pressure of the movement at the beginning of the 1980s to support “the eleven of Bilbao”—who were in court for abortion and were finally absolved—in 1985 the Ley Orgánica 9/1985 was approved, legalizing abortion under three circumstances: risks for the pregnant woman, rape and fetus malformation.
In 2010 the current law was approved, allowing women to have an abortion freely during the first 14 weeks and until the 22 week in some particular cases. It also introduces the right to teenagers of 16 and 17 years old to decide without their parents´ permission.
Austerity and oppression
Nevertheless, the reactionary Spanish government that is imposing economic austerity—with cuts, privatizations, labour reforms, bank bailouts etc—is also attacking abortion rights. And of course, women suffer the consequences of the crisis doubly. Together with the implementation of policies that are deepening women´s oppression and reducing our possibility of having equal opportunities (huge cuts in benefits for dependant people, childcare services, free school meals, etc) they attack something so basic as our right to control our own body.
All these ups and downs show us clearly something that we should never forget: under capitalism rights are never definitively conquered; the attacks of those who want to dominate workers never stops, and therefore our struggle must not stop either. 
In December 2013, the Government approved a draft bill of a law that, according to activists of the pro-choice movement, “involves a regression of more than 30 years, back to the era of Franco.” In contrast to the current law (a law “based in terms”), this is again a law “based in conditions”, like the one approved in 1985, but in a more restrictive version—it accepts only rape and health risks for the woman as conditions to justify an abortion.
On the top of this, the process and bureaucracy involved to get all the permissions required become much more complicated. According to some professionals: "This law almost abolishes the right of abortion, because in practice we will be able to make only 1% of the interventions we carry out currently.”
The government argues that their proposal is a response to the demands of a big part of the society. This is very far from reality though: in 2009 a survey revealed that 55 per cent of the youth in the Spanish State believes that abortion should be only a women´s decision, 25 per cent think that the society should set up some regulations to it, and only 15 per cent of the young people is against abortion under any circumstances.
And this is obvious on the streets. There are continous mobilizations to stop this law (that the Government hasn´t dared to approve definitively yet). The Purple Tide, one of the so called “mareas” (tides)—the movements emerged in the Spanish State to fight against all the attacks we are suffering during this crisis—has been created to defend women´s rights and is concentrating most of its efforts in the struggle to defend the right of abortion.
They have called several demonstrations where many other groups (unions, political parties, 15M assemblies, etc.) have joined. The last 8th of March (International Women´s Day) became an outcry against the government and their attacks on women. All across the State thousands of people were shouting: “We give birth, we decide!”, “Keep your rosaries out of our ovaries!”, “Safe, free and free of charge abortion!”, “Women decide, the State guarantees, the society respects and the Church does not intervene.”
Not only women’s groups are protesting, important coordination between movements is going on. The White Tide, formed by professionals and users of the Public Health to fight against its privatization, has also mobilised against the reform of the law of abortion. Gallardón, Minister of Justice and the main defender of this new law has received the so-called “escraches” at home—activists protesting outside his front door.
Far from being a reflection of people´s demands, the government position on the regulation of abortion is part of a political strategy—including opposing the right of Catalunya to independence, opposing the use of the Catalan language in schools in the Balearic Islands, and opposing gay marriage (which they haven´t dared touching after the Constitutional Court refused their appeal against it).   
But there are clear signs of resistance: the huge demo in Madrid the last 22nd of March, where more than 2 millions people gathered after marching from all across the State shouting for “dignity, bread and housing”, is just an example. Understanding all this, the biggest challenge of the pro-choice movement is to generalize our struggle even more, especially in the working places and through the unions. Abortion should be treated as a right to be guaranteed by the State and not as a crime, and attacks on abortion are also attacks on all the working class. The people united will never be defeated!
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend-long political conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include "How do we win reproductive justice: past and present struggles," "Racism, sexism and the war on women," and "World Pride and LGBT liberation."

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