By Patrick Craine and Kathleen Gilbert

MADRID, Spain, October 19, 2009 ( – A massive crowd of pro-life Spanish citizens captured international headlines Saturday after marching on the country’s capital to protest plans to loosen abortion restrictions in the country.

Estimates for the numbers of those in attendance varied, with mainstream media such as CNN and the New York Times reporting simply “thousands” or “tens of thousands.” However, the Christian Post reports that Madrid’s regional government estimated the numbers of attendees at around 1.2 million, and a spokesman for one of the pro-life organizers said 1.5 million people attended. The U.K.’s BBC and numerous other media outlets also put the crowd at over a million. According to Agence France Press, police put the number at 250,000.

Signs reading “For Life, Women and Motherhood,” and “Women Against Abortion” greeted Spanish Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s efforts to push through a law making abortion-on-demand legal up to 14 weeks’ gestation, and allowing girls as young as 16 years old to abort their unborn child without parental consent. The measure is due for consideration in Parliament soon.

Amid fluttering balloons and red-and-yellow Spanish flags, an enormous two-storey-high blue banner was hoisted, bearing the message: “Every life matters.”

Although abortion-on-demand is technically illegal in Spain, the almost complete lack of enforcement of abortion requirements has allowed Spain’s abortion rate to skyrocket. In 2007, an undercover investigation by Spanish media showed that Spain’s abortion clinics maintain financial ties with psychologists to rubberstamp prospective abortion clients as psychologically at risk due to their pregnancy.

Since 2000, Spain’s abortion rate has climbed a whopping 59% – compared to a 10% rise in Britain and France, and falling rates in Italy and Germany – earning Madrid the title of the “abortion Mecca” of Europe from local pro-life leaders. The country now sees the killing of over 100,000 children in the womb each year. As many as 1 out of 5 of its pregnancies end in abortion.

When the Socialist Worker’s Party introduced the new abortion law, Equality Minister Bibiana Aido said the proposed law “gives more guarantees, is more balanced, more modern, and brings us closer to Europe.” Yet a national poll earlier this year showed the majority of Spaniards rejecting the measure, particularly among women, who said they opposed it 43% to 34%.

Demonstrators gathered from throughout the mainly Catholic country, including prominent politicians such as former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. The event was sponsored by 234 pro-life groups from over 45 countries.

“We invite all 48 million Spaniards, regardless of the political party they belong to, whether they wear a cassock or practice their religion in a Synagogue or a Mosque,” Benigno Blanco, chairman of the Catholic coalition Family Forum, told Reuters.

Equality Minister Aido responded to the rally by telling the Associated Free Press that, though she has “total respect” for the protesters, “nobody has a monopoly on morality.”

Saturday’s rally also received endorsement by leaders of the Catholic Church in Spain. The Catholic News Agency reports that Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Tarazona voiced his support for the March last week in a pastoral letter, warning that Europe is ‘terminally ill’ due to abortion.

Fernandez indicated that since the legalization of abortion, “some 50 million children were not born, who would today be 50 million young people.” The new law, he said, would “multiply the number of those who are not going to be born.”

“Let us fight for life,” he said. “Life is the future of man, never death. Let us support women in difficulty, giving them the means to assume the precious task of new motherhood.”

See previous coverage:

Abortion Now Number One Cause of Death in Spain

Spain Continues Cultural Tailspin-Abortion Rates Soar 72%