As we sit across from each other at the breakfast table, I can’t seem to focus on what she’s asking me. Instead, I continue to carefully spread jam on my toast and rehearse the appropriate Spanish vocabulary and grammar in my head. I poise myself to ask a question, feeling feel somewhat pressured to phrase it as politely and innocently as possible. How I am supposed to ask a middle-aged Spanish-Catholic woman her thoughts about abortion rights?
Even though I have been living with Esperanza for almost a month now, I am still uncertain of her social, political, and religious beliefs. I always look forward to spending time with her because I enjoy practicing my Spanish, catching up, and exchanging stories. I recognize that we have the potential to learn so much about each other and our respective cultures. However, there seems to be a lot left unsaid.
Spain’s conservative Popular Party is trying to implement a bill that would severely restrict reproductive rights. In fact, this bill would only permit abortions in circumstances of rape or if two medical professionals who are not performing the procedure deem that the mother’s health is impaired. With such limitations, many women would have to pursue abortions internationally or resort to illegal and unsafe practices.
The passing of this abortion bill will result in Spain’s regression from its relatively liberal abortion laws, which allow women to terminate a pregnancy within the first 14 weeks and beyond that period in cases of life-threatening problems related to the fetus. Furthermore, under the current laws, teenage girls under the age of 18 can pursue abortions without their parents’ consent or knowledge.
Apparently, recent polls reveal that between 70-80% of Spaniards oppose the potential changes. While I am unsure how much weight these opinions will have given that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party constitutes the majority in the Parliament, I am still eager to hear the perspective of a female Spanish citizen.
Esperanza proceeds to tell me about the current controversy from a neutral position summarizing the viewpoints of the Popular Party and the Catholic Church. She refers to Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who is known for intertwining political and religious beliefs and describing how “the life of the unborn baby [should not] depend exclusively on the decision of the mother.” I try to redirect the conversation and ask whether she thinks the new legislation will be implemented. “Pues, Anna, no es tan fácil para predecir,” she says, essentially alluding to how she cannot determine the outcome.
“Of course. But, do your beliefs and the beliefs of your friends correspond to the proposed new law?” She explains that she does not necessarily support all of the restrictions that the Popular Party hopes to impose, but she thinks that the existing laws should be revised.
“No comprendo cómo una joven que tiene 16 años sabe lo qué quiere”, she adds. According to Esperanza, a 16-year-old girl does not truly know what she wants and she should not be able to have an abortion without her parents’ involvement. I try my best to conceal my reactions.
I am stunned not only by the prejuicio, or prejudice, embedded in Esperanza’s comment and the political and religious climate, but also by the impact that such prejudices have on abortion stigma. The prejuicios that we make about others and their cultures can truly prevent us from seeing el otro lado, the other side.
After reflecting on my conversation with Esperanza, I acknowledge that prejudices cloud our ability to sympathize, help, and support others. Spain’s Popular Party and Catholic Church demonstrate their prejuicios about women who seek abortions and allude to these prejuicios when making political decisions. In doing so, these groups discriminate against women who unintentionally get pregnant and have abortions. Most importantly, the prejuicios of Spain’s Popular Party and Catholic Church justify the control of women’s freedom, women’s bodies, and women’s futures.
As abortion stigma gains momentum and complements religious conservatism, it transcends state, regional, and international levels. Women’s lack of reproductive justice proves to be a global problem requiring global attention.
I admit that I have felt helpless at times while I cross my fingers and hope for the best outcome for women’s reproductive health and rights. Yet, the more favorable and promising approach is to promote dialogue. Inspired by the 1 in 3 campaign, I believe that women can reverse such stigma and empower each other as they unite to share their experiences and stories.