Spanish women protest against new laws limiting the availability of abortions

Females across the country are queuing up (and sometimes lying down) to oppose legislation which will limit the availability of abortions. Alasdair Fotheringham in Madrid asks what these so-called registry protests can achieve


As havens of humdrum state bureaucracy, government commercial registry offices are rarely targets for demonstrators. But this month, queues of women have lined up outside offices across Spain to demand that the largely baffled civil servants within allow them to symbolically register their bodies as their own property, with official certificates to prove it.

From Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona to Pontevedra and Alicante, the so-called “registry protests” are the latest attempt by women’s rights activists to draw attention to controversial government plans to dramatically limit access to abortion – a move that would create some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in Europe.

“We are saying, ‘If you don’t treat us as real people but as objects then okay, we’ll go to the commercial registry office and have our bodies officially denominated as “property”. Yolanda Domíngez – the Madrid-based artist and activist who originally conceived the “registry protests’” – told The Independent.

Since 2010, Spain has allowed women to seek an abortion up to the 14th week. But the planned changes to the law would make the procedure illegal, except in rape cases, or where two doctors independently certify that a failure to abort would damage the women’s mental or physical health. The governing People’s Party – backed by the Catholic Church – is adamant that access to abortion should be curtailed, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy repeatedly pointing to his party’s electoral manifesto, which promised to “ reinforce protection of the right to life” for the foetus.

Yet activists say if the law is changed, it would huge step backwards for Spain, putting the law on par with some of the strictest anti-choice legislation in the world and would violate women’s rights over their own bodies.

For Ms Domíngez, the amendments are characteristic of “the way women have been treated and dictated to for years, right down to how we have to behave, think and look.”

Thousands of people have taken to Spain’s streets to protest against the proposed measures in recent weeks, with hundreds more heading to the registry offices to take a stand. Such broad-based sympathy for the protesters is perhaps unsurprising, given a 2012 survey showed roughly 80 per cent of Spaniards, including practicing Catholics, believe the planned changes to the current abortion law are unnecessary.

In the past week, three regional parliaments – Catalonia, Extremadura and Andalusia – have voted against the reforms, as have the town councils of around 200 municipalities, some run by the ruling Partido Popular (PP) party. Demonstrations have been held not only in Madrid – where tens of thousands protested against the law – but also outside Spanish embassies in Brussels and Paris, where people symbolically demanded “asylum” in France from the new laws. Tickets for a “freedom train” earlier this month, which transported hundreds of activists from northern Spain to a protest in Madrid, sold out rapidly and the radical Femen group have carried out several protests, the latest surrounding the archbishop of Madrid as he was entering a church. They chanted “Abortion is sacred”.

However, speaking at the PP convention earlier this month, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón insisted the amendments would go ahead.

“You have my word that no screams or insults could provoke me to abandon my commitment to comply with the [party] platform to regulate the rights of women and the unborn,” he said. “We are not talking about moral issues or electoral advantages, but instead the defence of fundamental rights.”

Analysts say politics plays its part in the controversy. The party is keen to boost support among its socially conservative base voters before May’s European elections, especially as many are said to be deeply upset by the PP’s failure to rein in Catalan and Basque nationalists and reduce taxes. Within parliament itself, there seems to be only the barest murmur of dissent amongst the PP’s rank and file. A secret vote on the law’s reform in Madrid last week was regarded by pro-choice activists as a golden opportunity for deputies to rebel against their leadership. Instead, even without the fear of their identities being disclosed, 183 MPs voted in favour of reform – three less than the PP’s total number of deputies. The Opposition, with 151 votes against, were clearly defeated.

The activists, meanwhile, pour scorn on the government’s arguments and assert they are defending women’s fundamental rights.

“[This] would be the first time they’ve carried out one of their electoral promises,” May Serrano of the Mujeres Imperfectas [Imperfect Women] collective, which organised the registry protest in Bilbao. “This law represents a return to [the philosophy of] ‘ Ladies, go back home, have children’. It’s as if we were still living in caves.”

Ms Domínguez believes the proposed reforms are fuelled by the misconception that some women “abort on a whim” and therefore stricter controls are needed to prevent all terminations except in extreme cases. “Nobody ever does that: it’s a traumatic, risky experience and it’s a very tough decision to have to make,” she says. “It strikes me as absolutely absurd that somebody who has no idea about my personal situation decides what I can or can’t do with my body.” Many activists say there are many other, less drastic, steps to reduce the number of terminations. Under Spain’s current, pro-choice legislation, Ministry of Health figures showed that in 2012, the number of women undergoing the abortion procedures dropped five per cent from the previous year.

Yet with the government adamant to press on with the changes, the protests are set to continue.

Ms Domínguez says she has been surprised by the way support for the ‘registry protests’ has “mushroomed”. In Madrid, several female civil servants have asked for application forms to register their own bodies. “I’ve even had emails from parents who want to go and register their daughters,” says Ms Domínguez. As Spaniards continue to endure the after-effects of the country’s two year recession, and the PP faces long-running allegations of corruption, Ms Serrano says she believes the government’s resolve on this particular issue – in the face of such public opposition – can only backfire.

“Up until last year feminism was an old-fashioned word in Spain, and that’s no longer the case,” she says. “On top of that people [these days] are asking a lot more about what society in general is doing for them. And the less they have to lose, the more they will ask that.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003