AFP – More than one million people took to the streets of Madrid Saturday to condemn plans by the socialist government to liberalise the abortion laws in the overwhelmingly Catholic country, organisers said.
In a fiesta atmosphere and under warm sunshine, the crowd marched across the city behind a banner reading “Every Life Matters” to protest the plan, which would allow women 16 and over to undergo abortions without their parents’ consent.
They gathered in the central Plaza de Independencia, where 300 white helium balloons were released.
“The presence of each of you here today in this demonstration is a commitment to the fight for life,” Benigno Blanco, the head of the Forum for the Family, one of the chief organisers, told the crowd.
“Those of you who govern us must listen to the voice from the streets,” he said.
A spokesman for another of organisers, HazteOir (Make Yourself Heard), said 1.5 million people attended the march and rally, while the Madrid regional government estimated the crowd at 1.2 million.
Organisers said 600 buses and several planes were used to bring the supporters of 42 Spanish anti-abortion and Catholic associations to the capital for the protest, which is also backed by the conservative opposition Popular Party and the Roman Catholic Church.
The protesters, including former PP prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, carried red and white banners or flags saying “For Life, Women and Motherhood” and “Women Against Abortion” and “Madrid 2009, Capital of Life.”
“This new law is a barbarity. In this country, they protect animals more than human beings,” said Jose Carlos Felicidad, 67, a retired naval technician who came to capital from the southern town of Algeciras with his wife and three grown-up children.
“The government takes no notice of public opinion,” said Alberto, a 17-year-old student who came to Madrid for the rally by bus from the northern city of Santander. “It must justify laws that are against human life.”
The proposed abortion 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.
Women could also undergo the procedure after 22 weeks if the foetus had a serious or incurable illness.
The existing law introduced in 1985, a decade after the death of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, only allows abortion under more limited conditions.
The proposed new legislation, which is based on laws in place in most other EU countries, is to be debated in parliament in November.
An opinion poll published in ABC Friday said 42 percent of Spaniards believed there was no overwhelming popular support for the reforms, compared to 38 percent who believed there was.
A poll released earlier this month in the centrist Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia said a narrow majority of Spaniards opposed the reforms.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has defended the reforms, saying the state should not “intervene in the free and private decision of a woman, who is the one who has to take on the responsibility of a pregnancy during her entire life.”
Zapatero has passed a series of sweeping liberal social reforms since coming to power in 2004 that have angered the Roman Catholic Church, including measures to legalise gay marriage, allow for fast-track divorces and give increased rights to transsexuals.
HazteOir also said abortion opponents also planned demonstrations Saturday in front of Spanish embassies in other countries, including Italy, France, Poland, Ireland, the United States, Nigeria and in several Latin American nations.