Maria Sanchez was standing on the sidewalk outside the Dator Clinic in Madrid, the largest abortion clinic in Spain, politely offering information to women who were entering the clinic. This was not the first time she had offered herself as resource for women seriously considering abortion, but it was the first day she had the police called on her.
Sanchez, 26, works with HazTeOir and the Refugio ProVida, and has become accustomed to the intimidation and tactics of the pro-abortion movement to both stymie her work and deprive women confronting unplanned pregnancies of alternative resources.
Recently debuting on March 8th and strategically positioned across the street from the Spanish capital’s principal abortion clinic, the Refugio ProVida Centre is the pro-life and pro-family movement’s answer to an increasingly hostile environment created by the radical feminists of the current coalition government.
The center, explains Sanchez, indeed offers a refuge to both women facing an unplanned pregnancy and those in the pro-life movement trying to offer them genuine help. Located on the ground floor of a high-rise apartment building, the space was rented by HazTeOir to serve as a logistics centre and practical work space for the various pro-life movements in the city. Inside, pro-life counsellors are available to talk with women about their pregnancies. A display on foetal development gives women a visible window into the reality of their pregnancies. Most of all, Sanchez explains, she and other counsellors simply talk to women “heart to heart.” From the street, the space is wrapped with a brightly coloured vinyl, showing a smiling baby and contact information. Even when the centre is closed, counsellors are available by phone and email.
In just the first two months since it opened, over fifty women contacted the centre, either by phone, email, or simply walking in after a previous appointment at the abortion clinic.
The need for such a space became clear earlier this year when a Spanish law that criminalized offering information about alternatives to abortion on the street went into force. Pro-life sidewalk counsellors do no more than the many other campaigners found in urban areas—offer a pamphlet or ask pedestrians if they have a minute to talk. Now, under Spanish law, in respect to abortion, such actions are penalized as assault and harassment, punishable by up to a year in jail. Most disconcerting, the charges can be filed by a third party.
One recent afternoon, Sanchez found herself suddenly subject to such threats.
Though she most often works from the safety of the Refugio ProVida Centre, she and others have continued to take to the sidewalks. That afternoon in March, she and a colleague were quietly talking with a woman who was about to enter the clinic. Another woman passed by, stopped, watched, and took out her phone.
After the first woman had politely thanked Sanchez for the information and entered the clinic, the passer-by turned to the two pro-lifers and, according to Sanchez, threatened to “break their teeth.”
The police then arrived, and as they were required to do by the emergency call, demanded to see the three women’s identification and register the incident.
“But they [police] told us, don’t worry, this isn’t going to go anywhere,” Sanchez said.
True enough, the law stands mostly as a means of intimidation and libel against the pro-life movement. Sanchez believes that the radical feminists know that it could not stand a true legal test.
“They know that when the first charges of assault come through, the pro-life movement will fight them and it won’t stand up in court,” she said.
Though the incident happened weeks ago, nothing has come of it. No complaint about pro-life sidewalk counsellors has been registered by any of the women the counsellors had interacted with.
The Refugio ProVida has also been subject to vandalism. Coinciding with the opening, Sanchez arrived several mornings to find the vinyl covering on the windows seriously damaged and marred with spray paint and radical messages.
“They wanted to make the centre look uninviting and cover up the phone number,” Sanchez explained.
Thanks to donations, the coverings were quickly replaced.
The vandalism may have been encouraged through social media and the abortion clinic itself. Tweets decrying the opening of the Refugio ProVida office, and calling for “something to be done,” were retweeted on the account of the Dator Clinic in the days before the incidents. The CitizenGO Foundation has filed a suit against the abortion clinic.
Sanchez and her colleagues keep going with undiminished spirit. Sanchez points out that the strident efforts of the pro-abortion movement to shut down those who would offer women real alternatives only shows that it’s radical feminism and abortion advocates that infantilise women. She, though, will keep working for their liberation.
Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.