The calendar appears dominated by the red holes. Red at nine in the morning, red at one in the afternoon, red at eight in the evening. The scenario should be worrying for the organizers, at least seen from the outside: There are less than two weeks left before the very long days of prayers begin in front of the health clinics. abortion and there are no prayer volunteers all over. If there are no changes, it will be a failure. But Nayeli Rodríguez, coordinator of the initiative, assures that nothing happens. Everything will be fine. They are in good hands. “People will sign up on our website as the date approaches, the same thing always happens. The shifts are taken by God –he explains-. It is God's work."
From March 2 to April 10, for 12 hours in a row, in front of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy clinics in 19 cities (from Badajoz to Zaragoza, passing through Barcelona, Seville and Madrid), '40 days for life' will take place , an initiative against abortion born in USA and already present in 60 countries, which consists of meeting in front of the centers that carry out these interventions, displaying banners with phrases such as “What if I had your smile?” or “you are not alone, we can help you”, wear rosaries and, above all, pray non-stop. There have already been several calls of this type in Spain in recent years. But this time it is different.
In the second half of next month, according to the Government's plans, the penal reform that punishes harassment in pregnancy termination clinics with imprisonment from three months to one year or jobs for the benefit of the community from 31 to 80 will come into force. days. Approved in Congress in early February with the support of all groups except the PP and voxthe norm, which is in line with what already exists in France, United Kingdom and Germanyis now in the Senatewhere socialist sources point out that it will be definitively approved, without amendments, within a month. It will then be published by the Official State Gazette (BOE) and the next day it will come into force, coinciding with the halfway point of '40 days for life', which will take place in Madrid in front of the Dator clinic and in Barcelona in front of the Dalmases clinics and Angli.
In principle, if there is a complaint, the participants should be opened criminal proceedings. “There are people who are scared”, admits Rodríguez, the coordinator of the prayer days, on whose website a window appears clearly that leads to the following message: “The so-called 'pro-life criminalization law' (...) has not entered into force. (...) We will keep you informed at all times. Please always follow the recommended instructions and protocols and do not be afraid. Live Christ the King!".
“It is true that it carries a risk, which I personally assume because my life is dedicated to this. It is a fight worth fighting. God will say if I go to jail. But we are not going to ask everyone the same thing,” continues Rodríguez, who was born in Mexico 27 years ago and has been in Spain for 15.
Ultrasounds on the street
Radical anti-abortionism is made up of various groups, most of them related to each other. Before entering '40 days for life', Rodríguez, for example, was part of those known as Rescuers for a year and a half, much more aggressive: they try to stop the women who come to the centers, they offer them brochures, they ask questions to explain their decision, judging them along the way, and sometimes even, at least in Madrid, led by a doctor named Jesús Poveda, take a mobile ambulance to try to perform ultrasounds on them. One of its founders, Marta Velarde, chooses not to anticipate if she will continue her activity after the entry into force of the penal reform. "Sorry, I'm not going to answer that question," she says first. Afterwards, she says: “We will continue the same, helping women”.
After decades practically harassing them freely, with hardly any complaints because those who interrupted their pregnancy were not usually willing to go to the Police against those who had harassed them, the movement tries to rearm before what is coming. Now it will not be only them who can report, but also the workers of the clinics. A couple of weeks ago, the ultra-Catholic association Christian Lawyers released a guide on the new scenario. “You can go to pray in front of an abortion center –explains the text-. If they tell you that you can't, it's a lie."
"Theoretically, the new law should not affect us," says Rodríguez. They are not going to propose that praying be prohibited. We still live in a democratic country. Praying is not a crime.
Put like that, in the abstract, no, it's not. But everything can change when the prayer takes place at the doors of a clinic and aims to hinder the exercise of a right. In the absence of knowing how the courts will apply the reform, and here the '40 days for life' initiative will serve as a thermometer, the promoters of the law are clear that this type of prayer should be pursued. “The harassers who are found at the doors of the clinics have a single intention, and It is not praying: it is coercing the freedom of women”, pointed out during the debate in Congress Laura Berja, deputy of the PSOE.
In the Association of Accredited Clinics for the Interruption of Pregnancy (ACAI) they go to two different areas to argue that what the prayer-focused anti-abortionists do is, without a doubt, harassment. “Of course they can pray, but not in front of the clinics. If Jehovah's Witnesses were to gather around the buses where blood is donated, asking that no one enter, we would surely call it harassment. Or if a group of atheists stood before a church with posters that tried to convince the faithful not to go to mass because that is a nest of pedophiles, too, "explain sources from the agency, who describe the new law as a" great step ”, but at the same time they defend that security perimeters should have been established around the centers, as is the case in France. “We will see what happens, but in principle these groups will be able to continue acting, and we we will have to denounce and initiate the judicial process, making everything longer and more complicated”, they continue in ACAI.
The association published a report in 2018 that helps understand the extent of the phenomenon. After interviewing 300 women who had had abortions in clinics throughout Spain, the study concluded that 89% had felt harassed and 66% threatened. “If the survey were carried out now, the same results would come out, or even higher. There has always been harassment, since the 1985 law, but it intensified with the term law, in 2010”, explain the same sources.
And this, deep down, has to do with one of the singularities of the Spanish system. In 2020, the last year with data, only 15.4% of the interruptions in all of Spain were carried out in public centers, where due to a complex set of factors (moral arguments, disinterest, fear of stigmatization by classmates... ) continues to prevail the conscientious objection of doctors. By having to go to private centers, dedicated solely to these interventions, women who want to abort are much easier to identify by those who seek to prevent it.
"Criminal reform is a good measure, but it means resolving something very specific, not going to the bottom of the matter," says Encarna Bodelón, professor of Philosophy of Law at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and director of the Antígona research group. The basic problem has to do with access to termination of pregnancy, full of obstacles. And this is an irregularity, because it should be provided in public centers as it is part of the right to health. If that were the case, women could not be so stigmatized and singled out.” In an attempt to reverse this situation, the Ministry of Equalitydirected by United We Canhas announced that it wants to reform the abortion law, guaranteeing the right in public health through a registry of objectors, but it is not clear when it will come into force. The negotiation with the PSOE, his coalition partner, is expected to be long.