(Photo: AP Images / Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
An estimated one million people participated in a rally in Madrid Saturday to protest a proposed new law that would expand permission for abortion.
The overwhelmingly Catholic country currently allows only abortion in the cases of rape, fetal abnormality, or when the mother’s physical or mental health is at risk. But the proposed law, introduced by socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, would allow abortion for any reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Furthermore, the bill is proposing to allow girls as young as 16 to have an abortion without parental consent.
Under the theme “Every Life Counts,” protesters on Saturday called for the government to withdraw the bill from parliament.
The demonstration, backed by the Roman Catholic Church, saw thousands carrying signs reading “For Life, Women and Motherhood,” “Women Against Abortion,” and “Madrid 2009, Capital of Life.”
"We invite all 48 million Spaniards, regardless of the political party they belong to, whether they wear a cassock or practice their religion in a Synagogue or a Mosque," said Benigno Blanco, chairman of the Catholic coalition Family Forum, according to Reuters.
While Madrid’s regional government estimated the crowd to be about 1.2 million and a spokesman for one of the rally organizers said that 1.5 million people had attended, police said only 250,000 people participated, according to Agence France Presse.
Despite the massive rally, proponents of the proposed reform law maintain that the current law is unfair because it turns women and their doctors who perform abortion into criminals.
Equality Minister Bibiana Aido, a strong supporter of the reform, said though she has “total respect” for the protesters, “nobody has a monopoly on morality.”
“No woman can be penalized for taking such a difficult decision as that of abortion,” she said to AFP.
The proposal to relax abortion rules is the latest ethical issue that has deepened the divide between the Catholic Right and the socialist government. The government had also recently legalized gay marriage and made divorce easier.