Bill Criminalizing Prayer Near Abortion Facilities Protested Outside Spain's Senate

Several locales have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion facilities that limit free speech in the protected areas.

Right to Live members protest a bill that would criminalize prayer near abortion clinics in Madrid's Plaza de la Marina Española, April 6, 2022.
Right to Live members protest a bill that would criminalize prayer near abortion clinics in Madrid's Plaza de la Marina Española, April 6, 2022. (photo: Courtesy photo / Right to Live)

The Right to Live platform in Spain held a protest Wednesday in front of the the country’s Senate of a bill that would criminalize “harassment” of women entering abortion facilities.

The bill was introduced in May 2021 by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party’s coalition. It would criminalize “harassing women going to clinics for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” Anyone promoting, favoring, or participating in demonstrations near abortion facilities would be subject to penalties.

Penalties for what would be deemed harassment would include jail terms of three months to a year, or community service from 31 to 80 days. Depending on circumstances, an individual could also be barred from a particular location for between six months and three years.

The Right to Live protest was held April 6 in Madrid’s Plaza de la Marina Española, as the Senate was due to consider the bill.

“We want to remind by our presence, that by voting yes to this amendment to the Penal Code, thousands of mothers are going to be sentenced to the worst decision of their lives by depriving them of essential help; and thousands of babies are going to be sentenced to a cruel death. And that blood will stain your hands," the pro-life platform said in a statement.

In the exposition of motives for introducing the bill, the PSOE characterized the “harassment” of pro-life witness at abortion facilities as “approaching women with photographs, model fetuses, and proclamations against abortion … the objective is for the women to change their decision through coercion, intimidation, and harassment.”

The socialist parliamentary group said it “considers it essential to guarantee a safety zone” around abortion facilites.

Under the bill, pro-lifers could be prosecuted without the aggrieved person or their legal representative being required to file a complaint.

The Congress of Deputies voted to take up consideration of the bill in September by a vote of 199 to 144, with two abstentions. Only the two largest opposition parties, the People's Party and Vox, voted against it. The Congress of Deputies pass the bill by a 204-144 vote Feb. 3.

Both the People’s Party and Vox have expressed on several occasions their willingness to have recourse to the Constitutional Court, stating that the bill violates fundamental rights and public freedoms of assembly, expression, and personal beliefs.

Several locales have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion facilities that limit free speech in the protected areas.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is considering such a proposal, and Scotland’s Green Party has urged the adoption of one.

Proposals for buffer zones around abortion facilities throughout England and Wales were rejected as disproportionate by the then-British Home Secretary in September 2018, after finding that most abortion protests are peaceful and passive.

The typical activities of those protesting outside of abortion clinics in England and Wales “include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets,” Sajid Javid noted.

In England, a buffer zone was imposed by Ealing Council, in west London, around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in April 2018. The zone prevents any pro-life gathering or speech, including prayer, within about 330 feet of the facility.

The Ealing buffer zone was cited by Javid as an example of a local government using civil legislation “to restrict harmful protest activities,” rather than a nationwide policy.

More than 100,000 people attended a march for life in Madrid, Spain, on June 26, 2022.

More Than 100,000 March for Life in Spain

The reform of the abortion law was approved on May 17 by Spain’s Council of Ministers. Among other things, the bill would allow girls ages 16 and 17 to get an abortion without parental consent.