Not even a global pandemic has ended the presence of ultra-Catholic groups outside abortion clinics. Centers in different parts of Spain continue to suffer these months what they have been denouncing for years: harassment and approach to women who are going to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancy to try to reverse their opinion. They are anti-abortionists who, rosary in hand, distribute flyers with false information, pray, display their banners with proclamations against abortion or intercept women to convince them not to enter the clinic. “They tell them that they can help them, that what they have inside is a life, that they are going to commit a murder …”, explains Sonia Lamas, a worker at the Dator clinic, one of the most affected.
“They have made me feel like a murderer”: the harassment of women who have abortions by anti-election groups
They stopped going to this Madrid center during the state of alarm, but once it was over, they resumed their activity. They usually come on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays of each week and call themselves “rescuers” in reference to the lives they say they save by avoiding an abortion. A few days ago they came to boast on social networks of having made “two rescues” in four hours because “two couples who were determined to enter” supposedly decided not to enter the clinic. It not only happens in Madrid, where they also usually go to the El Bosque clinic, but also in other Spanish cities, such as Murcia or Albacete, they are used to dealing with the problem.
To this constant activity that the clinics call “harassment”, the so-called ’40 days for life ‘are added during these weeks, an initiative that was born in the United States and has already spread internationally. It is a campaign in several periods a year that proposes rallies from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm in clinics “to pray for the end of abortion.” Since last Wednesday, a few days before the celebration of the International Day for Legal and Safe Abortion, and until next November 1, they will do so, according to their call, in cities such as Madrid, Valencia or El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) . Dator is one of their favorite destinations: “They are small groups, of five or six, and they stand on the sidewalk in front of the clinic to pray with a sign that says ‘We pray for you and your baby,'” explains Lamas, who he sees them every day. “If abortion is considered an essential service, so is our presence,” they launched from the campaign’s official networks a day before it began.
In some places and moments the performance of these anti-election groups is more virulent than in others. Sometimes they pray, other times they approach women, but in all cases it involves “coercion” and an “attempt to impose their morals” on women who have freely decided to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancy; in the vast majority of cases “derived by the public health service,” explains José Antonio Bosch, a lawyer for the Association of Accredited Clinics for Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (ACAI), which has been drawing attention for years. “Does anyone imagine that it happened at the doors of a hospital? Would they last long there?”, He wonders. “We have no problem with people praying for whatever they want, but even with the coronavirus crisis they are still at the gates of the centers, no matter how much mask they wear, it is a violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
The activity of these groups, which intensified once the Abortion Law of 2010 came into force, has been studied by the Ombudsman, who has become involved in the matter as a result of a complaint from ACAI, which has been calling for years the attention. The complaint included evidence of “numerous cases of harassment throughout Spain” and “repeatedly”, so the agency began an investigation and ended up demanding preventive measures last February from the Directorate General of Police and a “global” intervention to the Ministry of Interior. On September 23, the Ombudsman intervened again after receiving the response from the Directorate. In it, they referred to their actions only in Madrid, so the answer is “insufficient” in the eyes of the agency, as reported to ACAI, since the recommendation referred to the entire national territory and nothing is said in the response of preventive measures.
“Why do women have to put up with being bullied?”
The modus operandi It is not the same everywhere. At the Ginemur clinic in Murcia, they have been attending every 25th of each month at night, even during the state of alarm, according to its manager, Ángel Tolosa. In their case, they are almost always the same people, among whom there is a priest, who in front of the doors of the medical center place a small altar with candles and, sometimes, a sign that reads phrases such as “we come to save the children of murder and things like that, “recalls the worker. Tolosa points out that their activity as an essential service declared during the quarantine has allowed them to see that they have been going, although during the state of alarm they gave up setting up the altar. The workers, he says, “we are used to it”, but he admits that it intercepts their work and even the day they come, forces them to close the clinic earlier than usual to avoid coinciding.
Until a while ago, the presence of this type of group in Ginemur was much more intense and they directly tried to convince women not to abort. These types of groups usually justify their activity by arguing that what they do is offer help and information to women, but in practice they induce fear through false statements and exaggerations about the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. Sometimes, they show them images of fetuses up to 22 weeks and supposed abortions and claim that the voluntary termination of pregnancy has immutable consequences such as depression, low self-esteem or even breast cancer. Sometimes they give women brochures with these kinds of statements and even give them little toy fetuses.
Several copies of these brochures have kept the Iris clinic in Albacete, one of the hot spots for years. They go there a couple of days a week “and approach the women. They tell them they want to help them, not to kill the baby, that there are other solutions and that what they are going to do is murder,” recalls Lola Gómez, a member of the Agora Feminista collective. The medical center, one of the only two accredited for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in all of Castilla-La Mancha, is located on a very narrow street, so the group that usually goes, is located at the same door. “Why do women have to be putting up with people who intimidate them when they enter a consultation, whatever it is?” Gómez wonders. For some, she says, it does not affect them so much “because we are not all the same”, but for others it is a “very unpleasant moment, they enter nervous and with the feeling, which is a reality, that their privacy has been violated.”
Bosch expresses himself in similar terms. The lawyer points out that when women enter to undergo an intervention “it is reasonable that they arrive in the best conditions, as relaxed as possible and with the lowest level of anguish.” Something that, in his opinion, is hindered in these cases. “Their anxiety, their stress grows and their constants are altered. It is verified by the doctors of our clinics that most of them arrive in worse medical conditions than those who enter with total normality”. With the aim of knowing more closely what effects it has on women, ACAI interviewed 300 who went to clinics in Madrid, Malaga, Córdoba or Albacete for abortions: 89% felt harassed and 91% believed they should have received public protection to avoid it.
“Safety zones” to curb harassment
That is, in fact, what the association has been defending for years and demands, which has recently been joined by 60 other human rights organizations, feminists and unions that have formed the ProDerechos Platform, which calls for an #AbortionWithout Harassment. According to their own calculations – conservatives, they point out – medical centers suffer about 100 harassment actions per year and some 8,000 women have been victims in Spain since the approval of the Abortion Law of 2010. It is not something new, they point out, but it is it has worsened in recent years. For this reason, they demand that Public Administrations take action on the matter and legislate to protect women, as is the case in countries such as France, Germany, Ireland or Austria in which anti-abortion groups also had a significant presence in the centers. .
In practice, what ACAI and the rest of the groups are asking for is a reform of the Penal Code that makes it a crime for conduct that “obstructs, prevents, restricts, limits or hinders women’s access to voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” This is how it is regulated in France, where this conduct has been a crime since March 2017. In other countries there are so-called “security zones” around clinics to protect women, something that the PSOE included in its proposal document with which He wanted to get an agreement with United We Can to govern. Both political parties, together with Ciudadanos, met with the platform last year, to which they responded positively to their proposals. The PP, according to the organizations, “did not even respond” to the request.
In the absence of the specific rule that makes these behaviors a crime, the clinics demand the establishment of these areas by means of the reform of Royal Decree 831/2010, of June 25, on the guarantee of assistance for the provision of voluntary interruption of pregnancy. It is the “minimum” demand, Bosch reiterates, asking the Public Administrations to “take an interest in the conditions in which the users are and protect them.”