The under-siege abortion clinic

Dator in Madrid has been the object of protests since it first opened back in the 1980s Its bosses believe that planned changes to the law would take Spain back 30 years

Luz Sánchez-Mellado
Pro-life protestors demonstrate outside Clínica Dator.
Pro-life protestors demonstrate outside Clínica Dator.ULY MARTÍN (EL PAÍS)

"Hermano Gárate street, number 14 please."

"That's Clínica Dator."

"Yes. Do you know it? Do you take many women there?"

"Quite a few. Like my own daughter, for instance. They're in tears when they walk in, and they're in tears when they walk out. Poor girls."

Madrid's taxi drivers, like this affable fiftysomething who tells us the story of his life, are quite used to driving women to this location. Everyone knows abortions have been performed here since 1985, when Dator became the first authorized center to do so after the Socialist government of Felipe González passed legislation allowing pregnancy termination in three circumstances: as a result of rape, in the case of fetal abnormality or when there is a danger to the health of the mother.

Since then, tens of thousands of women have ended unwanted pregnancies on the ground floor of an apartment block in a nice part of town. What few taxi drivers know - except for the one we got today - is exactly what goes on inside.

It is 12pm on Wednesday and everything seems peaceful in the hallways of Clínica Dator. The anguish, the relief, the conflicting emotions are reserved for the waiting room, the doctors' offices and the operating theaters.

There are not many patients here today. Fridays and Saturdays are the peak days. Women prefer to have their abortions right before or over the weekend so they can have some time to recover and not have to do any explaining at work.

I have a partner and a job, but we wouldn't be happy - not me and not the child"

Upcoming reforms by the conservative Popular Party government, which will place greater restrictions on legal abortion - even in cases of fetal abnormality - are a matter of concern for the gynecologists, surgeons, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers at Dator. The patients here today, however, have other matters on their mind. After all, by the time the law changes, their own abortions will be over and done with.

"I don't need anyone telling me what I can or must do. I can't deal with maternity right now. I have a partner, I have a job, but we wouldn't be happy, not me and not the child," says one 38-year-old woman, who is on the verge of tears. She has just received information about how the procedure works, as well as an envelope containing alternatives to abortion (as required by law). Now she will have to take 72 hours to think it over, as do all women who want an abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy without providing a reason for it. These are the measures that were introduced by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2010. This particular woman seems very sure about her decision, even if she is emotional about it. She would rather pay the 350-400 euros the surgery costs than wait the 15 to 20 days it would take for the Madrid public health system to take on her case and perform it for free.

In another room, a Chinese woman aged 30 explains - half in rudimentary Spanish and half in sign language - that she already has a 10-year-old child and neither wants, nor can care for, another baby. She is here to work, she says, and does not want to return with two children to a country where the single-child mentality is still well in place. Despite her sketchy Spanish, this woman knows her rights as a legal immigrant and is going to request a free abortion from the public health service.

Diego Fernández and Olga Sancho, the manager and spokeswoman for Dator, have been hearing stories like these for 27 years. They are both part of the "hardcore of activist health workers," the group that founded this center at a time when abortion was anathema in Spain, and not just for the more conservative Catholics.

It's been proven that restricting the right to abortion does not reduce the numbers"

This has changed, but not all that much. "You want to talk about escraches?" asks Sancho, in reference to a recent trend in Spain where homeowners facing foreclosure are organizing noisy protests in front of politicians' homes to demand changes to mortgage laws. "Escraches are what we've been getting here since 1985. They've used red spray paint on us. They shot at our sign with a shotgun. They followed us right to the subway entrance, calling us murderers. The folks from [Catholic group] Misa de las Familias send kids to our front door. What they don't know is that some of those girls have later showed up here with or without their parents, requesting our services. 'Our case is different,' they say. Well, no, it's not. It's still the same pain."

The current legislation, say these professionals, has helped women make their abortions slightly less dramatic. "It is no longer necessary to prove you have financial troubles, or that you are in a terrible relationship, or that you are in anguish. [PP Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz] Gallardón wants to put an end to free choice for women, to go back 30 years. We are all self-reliant, we don't need any political or religious powers acting as our tutors," says Sancho indignantly.

"Besides, it's been proven that restricting the right to abortion does not reduce the numbers," adds Fernández. "The World Health Organization says so. If the pregnant woman has the means for it, she will have her abortion abroad. If she does not, she will do it at a clandestine center, with the ensuing risk to her health."

Although official figures are still not available, the last ones, from 2011, suggested a five-percent increase in abortions, perhaps due to the crisis. Dator managers claim that abortions have dropped 10 to 12 percent in 2012, at least at their center. An increased use of the morning-after pill, the exodus of immigrants to their home countries, and increased precautions out of fear of getting pregnant in times of crisis, could be the reasons for this drop.

And what about business? "We are not a non-profit, but we have no special desire to see women get abortions. The field we are working in is sexual health. We would love to see an increased use of our gynecology services, and less of the operating room. But we can't ignore the reality," says Sancho.

None of the doctors at Dator would reveal their names for this story. Abortion still creates a stigma. "It's a blot on your résumé," says one surgeon. "If you do this, you'll always be the abortion guy."

After undergoing the operation, the patients walk out. Many come here with their partners or their relatives, but others come alone, and they are in no state to take a bus or the Metro. That is why many of them, no matter how short of money they are, hail a cab. That might have been the case of the young woman who climbed into our taxi as we were dropped off on the doorstep of Dator.

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