Translated by Charles Connolly
‘No one can remain indifferent when faced with legislative initiatives to shield abortion centers and prohibit, even to the point of imposing prison sentences, the presence of groups of rescuers nearby.’ So wrote Javier Segura a few days ago in an article in Omnes entitled ‘Jailed for defending life’. Segura is educational delegate for the diocese of Getafe (near Madrid), and president of the Educational Association Ven y verás. Educación (Come and See: Education).
As is well known, for years, small groups, in a rather unorganized way—but persistently—have been advising women who approach abortion centers to terminate their pregnancies and get rid of the baby they are carrying. The question they ask is this (or a very similar one): ‘What do you need in order not to have an abortion?’
This is how it was put to Omnes by Dr Jesús Poveda, promoter of the Escuela de Rescates (Rescue School), who has been working every Saturday for the last fifteen years in this task of counseling pregnant women. ‘About 10% of the women we counsel reject abortion and opt for life,’ he asserted. In this interview he responds to questions put him by Omnes.
In addition to his professional work, Jesús Poveda is vice-president of the Spanish Federation of Associations for Life, and presides over pro-life groups in Madrid. He points out that this Saturday rescue mission is ‘a personal initiative’, at the margin of pro-life associations, whose task is ‘assistance, training, and denunciation of the law in force.’ Although the Aido law (a reform of 2009) has ‘a good side to it’, in that it carries with it the obligation to advise women and give them a few days to consider the alternatives, in fact this is ‘something not always done’.
What do you need in order not to have an abortion? That’s the question Michelle heard a few years ago, when she decided to go ahead with her pregnancy, after talking to members of Rescatadores Juan Pablo II (John Paul II Rescuers) just at the door of an abortion center. Marta Velarde, its president, has stated that around ‘5,400 babies have been rescued in the last nine years.’
You can see Michelle’s testimony (in Spanish) here. She gave it on the last Sunday of June 2021, during the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Yes to Life Platform presided over by Alicia Latorre, and held within the framework of the Race for Life organized by the Association of Athletes for Life and the Family, whose president is Javier Fernández Jáuregui. The race was orgainised in collaboration with Omnes and other institutions.
Freedom of expression
The work of these prayer and pro-life groups has not gone unnoticed, in political, civil and ecclesiastical spheres. The legislative initiative to penalize people who participate in these counseling tasks is in place. At the end of September 2021, in response to questions from journalists, the secretary general and spokesman for the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Bishop Luis Argüello, stated that these groups pray for mothers, whether they have abortions or not, and they offer alternatives to the destruction of human life; and ‘if the right to abortion is recognized, freedom of expression must also be recognized.’
Bishop Argüello (who is auxiliary bishop of Valladolid) added that ‘what is really worrying is that terminating the development of a human life is considered a progressive step’. And he recalled that these groups ‘pray and offer alternatives, to help avoid the destruction of a human life.’ In addition, he referred to the ‘significant experience of people who go back on their decision to abort’, thanks to the help of these people and who, in this way, save a life. He also reminded us that ‘this isn’t a matter of faith but of science, which informs us that here we have a new human being, with its own DNA and with the capacity to develop and mature a life that already exists.’
In the civil sphere, Family Forum has published a report in which it points out that ‘at present there is no public network of help for pregnant women in vulnerable situations, nor is their support of the right of pregnant women, in all types of assistance and health centers, to be informed of the existence of this network and of the help and support available to them.’
‘These measures, which the Family Forum has been proposing for years to all political parties without exception, have still not been taken on board and implemented by the different governments,’ the Forum added.
‘If what is mentioned in the previous paragraph were being effectively implemented by the competent authorities, there would be no reason for holding rallies which, in light of the present Bill, are so annoying to those who profit from the drama of abortion, and who, in collusion with those who are supposedly flag bearers of the public, propose initiatives (such as the one under consideration) that benefit private companies. The present legislative proposal to reform the Penal Code has an intention that is clearly exclusively political, ideological and intimidating: it is very defective from the legal and technical point of view, and it is clearly unconstitutional.’
Private aid given to pregnant women
Meanwhile, foundations such as RedMadre (Mothers’ Network), Madrina (Godmother), Vida (Life) and others help pregnant women in a multitude of ways and means, as they have been doing systematically over many years; they also give help to women with very young children who have just given birth.
In 2019, for example, more than 30,000 women turned to Fundación RedMadre (redmadre.es) ‘when faced with the lack of support that motherhood suffers in Spain.’
Specifically, 31,849 women, who had recently given birth, found themselves in vulnerable situations (6151 more than in 2018), and were helped by the 40 RedMadre associations spread throughout the country.
When the foundation was asked how these women came to know about the existence of RedMadre, the answer was simple: ‘through the Internet, social networks, Instagram, etc. That’s where you can find our details; they get in touch with us.’
Through its work of accompanying and supporting pregnant women and/or new mothers, RedMadre Foundation ‘finds that many women who face an unexpected pregnancy want to continue it, but the difficulties of accessing the labor market or developing their professional career, the lack of emotional support, and the almost total lack of maternity aid from public administrations, lead them to seek help in other areas of civil society through NGOs like RedMadre.’
‘In fact, every year the number of women under 30 years of age who ask us for support increases. These women have not finished their studies; they do not have a stable partner; and most of them are unemployed. Such women feel themselves abandoned by the public administrations in the face
of their pregnancy,’ explains Amaya Azcona, general director of Fundación RedMadre.
The foundation also reports another interesting fact: ‘89.23% of the women who considered abortion went ahead with their pregnancy after receiving help from RedMadre volunteers.’ The foundation reported that 47.23% were Spanish and 73.57% were unemployed. In addition, 5.55% suffered physical or psychological abuse by their partner because of their pregnancy; 47 mothers were referred to foster homes, and 70 women sought help for post-abortion trauma.
‘RedMadre’s work is carried out thanks to its volunteer network. More than 50 training courses have been given, reaching 1500 volunteers of all ages and with a wide and diverse profile: medical professionals, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, teachers, housewives, students and retirees,’ added Amaya Azcona.
Of every ten who ask for support, nine go ahead and continue their pregnancy
The number of what are officially called voluntary terminations of pregnancy (VTPs)—i.e. abortions—fell by 10.97% in 2020, compared to the previous year. There was a total of 88,269 abortions, according to data from the Spanish Ministry of Health. This breaks the trend of around 100,000 abortions per year in Spain in recent years, with a decrease of around 11%. The Ministry of Health has attributed this decrease to the ‘exceptional situation’ caused by the pandemic and points out that the drop has occurred in all the self-governing communities [that is, the various provinces throughout Spain].
With these data in mind, Fundación RedMadre considers that ‘it is clear that Spain urgently needs a law to support motherhood, one which pays special attention to pregnant women who have difficulties and one which guarantees that women have all the information and opportunities available to them to freely choose motherhood.’
Amaya Azcona, commented that the experience of her foundation ‘is that out of every ten women who ask us for support, nine go ahead with their pregnancy when they receive the support they need. That’s why we believe that behind the scandalous figure of almost 90,000 women who’ve had abortions, there are many who would have opted for motherhood if they had had access to the support and help they needed.’
In the context of initiatives such as that of the Ministry of Equality, which seeks to reform the abortion law so as to put an end to what the current Administration considers ‘obstacles’ hindering access to abortion in Spain, in a meeting of the Madrid City Council on September 28 a deputy for the political party Más Madrid referred to the Fundación Madrina in a derogatory manner: ‘like the Godmother Foundation… the only thing they do is prepare a little cot for the pregnant woman, with some bottles and diapers… and they think that with that, she (the mother) is going to survive the day after having given birth.’
Shortly afterwards, Fundación Madrina, an institution founded and chaired by Conrado Giménez, which has been defending women and the most vulnerable children for 21 years, and which has taken in nearly 2 million children, mothers and pregnant teenagers, ‘victims of trafficking, violence, prostitution, abuse or social inequality’, published a statement in reply:
‘We deeply regret that institutions that have been working for decades for the most vulnerable children and mothers are once again being dragged into the political debate, so as to hide the serious social reality that we are experiencing and that the most vulnerable families, especially those with dependent children, are suffering. So we invite Ms. Carolina Pulido, and all the political groups she represents, to learn more about this social reality: because it is clear that she is
unaware of it, as well as of the social work that Fundación Madrina has been carrying out for more than two decades, and which we can now spell out in detail. Our social work has received visits from all political parties, including Podemos, Ciudadanos and PSOE. All these projects have been carried out with its own resources, since, to date, it has received no help from the City of Madrid, as she (Ms. Puildo) acknowledged in her statement.’
To help us visualize the wide range of aid available, the foundation presided over by Conrado Giménez pointed out that ‘no one was talking about the children during the pandemic. It’s true that Fundación Madrina distributes cots; about 15,000 were distributed last year during the pandemic, and delivered to each family’s home. The value of each one of them is estimated at €700, far more than a poor family can afford. Because the Madrina Foundation cares about children, it doesn’t want them to be a burden on their mothers, and so it distributes prams, diapers, household goods, clothes, shoes, blankets, t-shirts, school supplies… all things that the Administration doesn’t give.’
He emphasized that Madrina ‘is an advisor to the United Nations and the European Parliament, fighting for the rights of single-parent families; it makes available apartments and sheltered residences that take in mothers and children with disabilities, and young women mothers, victims of violence, abuse, rape, prostitution and human trafficking, most of them abandoned by the Administration and by their own partners; and it also runs training, employment and entrepreneurship centers to provide employment to vulnerable families; it has a baby-bank that feeds more than 4000 families a day, distributing more than 20 tons of food and infant hygiene products to around 100 institutions, including Social Services and Samur Social (Social Samurai). Madrina serves and welcomes about 78 different nationalities: 50% of the women it looks after are Spanish, and the rest are immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.’
Children and mothers in need
As well as that, ‘the foundation provides food and child hygiene to the so-called “hunger queues”, thousands of families and children, all of them referred from Social Services, health centers, hospitals and entities such as Caritas, Red Cross, Doctors of the World, and CEAR (the Spanish Commission for Refugees). All told there are about hundred institutions which are provided with weekly food and baby hygiene products; among these can be found entities that are Socialist in origin and LGBTI groups. The foundation only sees children and mothers in need.’
‘Madrina also gives shelter in residences and foster homes, many of which are supplied by the foundation, to more than 30 women and children, and has provided housing in rural areas—the so-called ‘Madrina villages’—to more than 300 families and about 1000 children, all of them victims of evictions. However, the entity still has a waiting list of more than 800 vulnerable families at risk of homelessness, and who have been condemned to find food in the “hunger queue” served by the foundation.
‘Another outstanding service provided by Madrina is their 24-hour call center. It was the only telephone service in operation during the pandemic, since all the administrative telephone numbers, such as 016, 010 and 012, were blocked. This telephone service of the organization attended to about 350,000 emergency calls, dealt with health and food and accommodation problems, receiving up to 15 calls per minute at peak times.
‘Finally, the foundation remained open 24 hours a day during the 2020 pandemic,’ in the words of those running it. ‘We recognize the work of nearly 2000 volunteers who have given their best efforts to provide life support and help to mothers with their children and to the families who have
turned to Fundación Madrina, seeking food, accompaniment, transportation, accommodation and health care.’
The question of conscientious objection to both the abortion law and the euthanasia law is dealt with elsewhere; the October 2021 issue of Omnes includes an analysis of the issue. But just to note one recent fact: the statements of the Government Delegate for Gender Violence, Victoria Rosell, in an interview summed up by some journalists as: ‘The right to abortion cannot yield to the right to objection.’ It is not just symptomatic.