From Madrid to Paris, from London to Berlin and all over Europe, women and men went to the streets to demand respect for women’s rights, including the right to decide to continue or end a pregnancy. These massive demonstrations were a response to the attempt from the Spanish government to curtail women’s rights with an outrageous bill.
In Spain women and men rode the “train of freedom,” to reach the capital. The older participants remembered the time before the first laws in the 80s when women risked their lives for not pursuing an unwanted pregnancy. The younger were afraid for the future of their lives. Men expressed worries for their partners, their daughters. Many were afraid of the moral and social setbacks and the threat of the extreme right rule. After all, the time of Franco dictatorship left its marks on the Spanish population.
Sizeable demonstrations took place in 32 cities in France. Thirteen women politicians from the left to the right, who also recently supported LGBT rights, launched an appeal to the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. They noted that Spain has often led Europe in passing progressive laws that made headway in defense of women’s rights, especially targeting sexual and sexist violence. Spanish law inspired other countries like France in shaping better anti sexist laws to address violence against women.
People who joined or supported the demonstrations know that what is happening in Spain is just one side of a multifaceted battle against women’s rights and public services that is raging across Europe. These rights are social rights.
Annie Ernaux who wrote an iconic book on her experience with abortion when it was illegal, asks, “Is it really unfathomable to imagine a return to clandestine abortion? I have always been convinced that nothing is ever definitely won for women.” What happened to women when their reproductive rights were not respected? “We would see women dying of hemorrhage, septicemia, or losing their uterus” recalled Martine Hatchnel a gynecologist who started working before the Veil abortion law.
As the neoliberal crisis has extended its grip on populations through austerity measures, Europe has experienced a certain hardening on human rights issues and the rise of far right power. However, the Spanish government’s attack on women’s rights has galvanized a stronger opposition than expected. 81 % of Spanish people oppose the bill; throughout Europe support for reproductive rights is increasing. In France these rights have been reinforced in law, social organization, and public support, which is large.
There is a movement that demands that these rights be recognized as nonnegotiable in the EU. For example, Portuguese European deputy Edite Estrela has tried to have sexual and reproductive rights recognized through a vote on her Report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, which had already been altered with the removal of LGBT sexual rights. Her report was defeated by only 7 votes, largely because a translation error led to some thirty votes being misdirected. Estrela is appealing the decision. This Report would have broadened the commitment to sexual and reproductive rights within the EU, especially directed toward Ireland, Poland, Spain, Malta and Italy.
Revolt and indignation are brewing across Europe, according to Isabelle Louis, of Paris Planning Familial and one of the organizers of the Paris demonstration. Visibly pregnant, she read the declaration of the French Family Planning in support of sexual and reproductive rights. She said that there was something very important taking place during this demonstration as she observed the varied crowd, men, women and definitely with a trans-European coloration. She saw older women too old to march showing their support from their windows and balconies.
Isabelle Louis concluded that the battle continues and this time she’d like to believe that it could be won!