Thousands of people march to protest a government plan to limit abortions in Madrid on February 8, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

An extraordinary thing happened in Spain yesterday. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy officially abandoned plans to overhaul the nation’s laws that would have restricted access to safe and legal abortions. Hours later, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the justice minister behind the bill that sparked massive demonstrations at home and condemnation abroad, resigned. 

There are many factors behind the happy defeat of this terrible bill. But this is above all a victory for the women’s movement in Spain and a testament to the power of the international women’s human rights discourse.

Since 2010, women and girls in Spain have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy up through 14 weeks, without having to justify their decision. The bill would have restricted access to abortion only to cases when the woman’s physical or mental health was endangered (up to 22 weeks) and when the pregnancy was the result of sexual violence (up to 12 weeks). It would have thrown up significant barriers to abortion even in those limited circumstances, such as requiring two specialist doctors to testify to the threat to health and forcing women and girls seeking an abortion as a result of rape to make a report to the police. 

Women, girls, and men took the streets in Spain and beyond to protest the bill, arguing rightly that these proposed changes put rights and health at risk. Spanish and international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, argued in the media, letters, and meetings against the roll-back. International human rights law recognizes that access to safe and legal abortions is crucial to women’s and girls’ human rights, including the rights to life, nondiscrimination and equality, health, and privacy, the right to decide on the number and spacing of children, and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. 

Nevertheless, this is no time for complacency. The Spanish government has indicated it still wants to impose the obligation on 16 and 17-year-olds to get parental consent before they can access a safe abortion. And access to safe abortion remains banned except in very limited circumstances in Ireland, Poland, and Malta.

But let’s savor this victory even as we continue the battle for women’s full sexual and reproductive rights.