Autumn came, and thousands of smiles lit up Spanish streets and squares. On September 23rd, the Spanish government withdrew the planned legal reform of the Abortions Law approved in 2010. On that day, across much of the world, one phrase could be heard in unison: “We did it!”.

Nine months of social pressure and constant presence in the streets

In December 2013, the Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón announced the approval of the Draft Law on the Protection of Life of the Conceived and the Rights of Pregnant Women, and began to pass it through the Spanish Parliament thanks to the absolute majority of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

If it had been enacted, it would have replaced a law on time limits by a law based on assumptions; that means, from a law comparable to those of the most progressive and advanced governments in terms of sexual and reproductive rights, to a law that means the sole justification for abortion cases would be rape or risk to the physical and mental health of the mother. Thus, “Gallardón’s Law”, would become one of the most regressive acts known to modern democracy.

It wasn’t new. In 2010 the Popular Party submitted an appeal to the Spanish Constitutional Court against the abortion law passed by the Zapatero Government, the resolution of which is still pending. Furthermore, the law’s modification was in the PP manifesto for the elections in 2011.

In reaction to this, in January and February 2014, the Spanish citizens and the sympathisers around the world began mobilising to stop the draft Spanish anti-abortion bill.  People of all generations were on the street demanding the right to freely decide on their life, destiny and future. It seems surreal, seeing how some of those very people were on the streets thirty years ago opposing a law that was passed in 1985, yet it is all happening again. Thanks to their persistence and constant striving for improvement it was changed in 2010, making it more progressive and comparable to other European countries.

In March and April the protests continued and it became a burning issue in public opinion. In some PP quarters there was significant discontent over the bill, creating tension within the party among those groups who were reluctant to implement the law reform and those who supported it.

The European Elections in May showed the Spanish disaffection with the mainstream parties and their politicians. Although the winner of the election in Spain was the Popular Party, they lost over 2.5 million votes compared with the elections in 2009.

In July, Minister Gallardon declared that the new law would be passed in Parliament before the end of the summer. As a result, a group was formed in Berlin called The Red Federica Montseny, a platform which spread to different European cities and whose aim is “to facilitate access to free and safe abortion abroad to all women who are forced to move out of the Spanish State to undergo an intervention, into countries with more permissive laws on reproductive health. The network has a pool of accommodation in the homes of volunteers, and offers access to people who can provide information on medical procedures and legal requirements, as well as offering friendship and translation”.

Un-Popular Party?

In September the current Parliamentary term began with politicians’ sights set on the next elections.

Next year, 2015, will be an important election year for Spain, first with the municipal and regional elections in May and the general ones at the end of 2015. The Popular Party has already begun its election campaign and, although it is currently governing with an absolute majority, the polls predict a substantial shift in the political spectrum. Among the ranks of the PP it is known that approving such laws as the one on abortion or electoral reform would be controversial.

Weeks before President Mariano Rajoy announced that the government would abandon Gallardon’s plan, there was already a great deal of speculation about the withdrawal of the bill.  However, few suspected that one of the major demands of the popular mobilisations would be fulfilled: the resignation of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. The minister said that his resignation had been tendered as a result of the Government’s decision to abandon the abortion reform bill approved nine months earlier.

Despite the withdrawal and resignation, we must remain vigilant. But while we await the ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court, it is still possible to have a safe abortion. That’s why the mobilisations and protests that have taken place over the past few months, as well as the ones carried out on the Global Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion (on September 28), remind us that social movements and pressure from citizens can lead to a better future for society.

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