Meet The Woman Behind Spain’s ‘Abortion Travel Agency’
The Debrief: As Spain tries to restrict the rights of women to terminate their pregnancy, campaigners set up a mock travel agency to show what could happen if the laws are passed
Walk past the windows of the newest shop opening Madrid, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stumbled upon any typical travel agency. With glossy-looking adverts in the windows for London, Berlin and Paris, you'd think you could easily walk in to plan a weekend away in Europe’s biggest cities. But you can’t buy a package holiday here because it isn’t a real business – it’s a pop-up protest to show what could happen in Spain if the proposed draconian abortion laws are passed. Welcome to Spain’s ‘Abortion Travel Agency’.
‘One of the first “customers” was a woman who had to leave Spain to get an abortion many years ago before the current, more liberal abortion law was passed,' explains Cristina Rodríguez, one of the people behind the 'Abortion Travel' project, to The Debrief. 'She chose Amsterdam because it was all she could afford. She was only 19 at the time and she couldn't afford to take anyone with her. Imagine having to make that journey on your own when you're still essentially a teenager? But this will once again become the reality for women in Spain if the government has its way. She came to tell us how harrowing her experience was, and because she believed in what we were doing and wanted to act as a reminder of the horrendous situation we could go back to if the new bill is passed.'
It’s easy to see how abortion tourism could flourish in Spain if the bill is passed.
Rodríguez' day job is as an art director in advertising agency DDB but, for now, she's also part of the ‘Abortion Travel’ project – a fake travel agency that, as they say ‘should never exist’. The pop-up agency finds the cheapest flights to those countries where women who might wish to terminate their pregnancy could get an abortion, the best-priced hotels to stay i,n and the more suitable clinics. It’s fake – for now. But it’s easy to see how abortion tourism could flourish in Spain if the bill is passed.
Despite an overwhelming public outcry – on 20 December 2013 the Spanish Congress passed a draft for the new abortion regulation law that, if approved, will take Spain back 30 years, and give it one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe – the changes will make abortion illegal, except in the case of rape or when there is a risk to the physical and mental health of the mother. If a woman wants to have an abortion, she would require two doctors to verify that those circumstances were met.
The new laws came seemingly out of nowhere. When the Partido Popular (People’s Party, the right wing political party leading Spain at the moment) won the last elections and the Ministries were formed, no one expected that relatively progressive looking former mayor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón – who is now Spain’s Ministry of Justice – to make any significant changes to women’s reproductive rights. Independent terrorism had ended in Spain and the penitentiary system seemed to be the biggest problem to tackle, as well as the slow mechanism of the Spanish courts. However, the staunchly Catholic minister had plans to put Spain’s abortion laws on par with those in Poland, Ireland and Malta.
We want more people to understand that our government is essentially trying to send women away to terminate our pregnancies, which only adds to the stress it can cause.
Since the proposed law came into public existence there have been protests across Spain as women insist the government's changes won't stop them having abortions – they will just drive the practice underground. ‘Women who want to get an abortion will find any way possible of doing so, as they did 30 years ago when Spain had a similar draconian law to what the government is now proposing,’ Rodríguez explains. ‘However, only those who have enough money to pay for the costs of travelling – let alone the mental stability to deal with the psychological consequences of having the procedure away from home – will be able to do it. I hope this fake clinic we've built will never have to exist, but I do worry what will happen to the women who will be unable to use an abortion travel agency like ours. We are not saying abortion is great – it’s an incredibly traumatic experience – but we do want more people to understand that our government is essentially trying to send women away to terminate our pregnancies, which only adds to the stress it can cause.’
‘Abortion Travel’ might sound like a controversial publicity stunt, but as Cristina Rodríguez explains, all sorts of people have stopped by to show their support, ‘Young women, an entire school class, the elderly (who remember what it was like when Spain’s abortion laws were less liberal) have all come to us to tell us how disappointed and frustrated they are by what the government is doing. We’ve even had loads of young women who thought the agency was legitimate and came in wanting information – which just shows how little the government is doing to equip young women with the information they need to take control of their sexual health.’
We need to create media pressure for politicians to understand that young women will not allow them to cut people’s freedom without a fight.
Alongside the fake clinic, the organisers have set up a change.org petition, calling on the government to withdraw the proposed legislation. So far it has received 41,000 signatures and counting. 'We want people to understand what will happen if we sit back and let this happen,’ Cristina explains. ‘We need to create media pressure for politicians to understand that young women will not allow them to cut people’s freedom without a fight. We could, very soon, be in a situation when a young woman might have to go to Paris and pay up to €8,000 (£6522.74) for a malformation case abortion. It’s an impossible situation for many young women and all it means is that we’ll see the return of dangerous clandestine abortions. Which, I think everyone can agree is a terrifying thought.’
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