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By Jonathan Gleave
MADRID (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of anti-abortion campaigners protesting against a proposal to change Spanish abortion laws marched though Madrid Saturday in one of the largest demonstrations since anti-war protests in 2003 and 2004.
"We have clearly beaten attendance at our previous marches; over 900 coaches with demonstrators have come to take part ... I think we have met our target for a million people," organiser and chairwoman of parents' association Cofapa Mercedes Coloma, said.
There was no independent assessment of the crowd's size.
Under the slogan of "Every Life Counts," the march has been called by Spanish anti-abortion groups to challenge a Socialist government proposal to allow abortion up to the 14th week of gestation of the foetus.
"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 Catholic coalition, the Family Forum, said.
Spain's government has said that current Spanish law allowing abortions only in cases of rape, foetal damage or danger to the physical or mental health of the mother unfairly brands women who wish to abort and their doctors as criminals.
One of the most potentially divisive elements of the bill for Spain's traditionally Catholic electorate is the proposal to allow 16-year-olds to terminate pregnancies without parental consent, which even sectors of the Socialist vote have opposed.
The bill runs the risk of galvanising opposition to Spain's minority government and its Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has been criticised for his handling of Spain's persistent economic crisis.
A poll by Spain's leading newspaper El Pais on October 3 after cabinet approval of a 2010 budget which boosts taxes by 11 billion euros showed 61 percent of interviewees disapproved of Zapatero's handling of Spain's persistent economic crisis.
Although the conservative opposition Popular Party will not send an official representative to the demonstration, it opposes the bill and ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar plans to join other prominent PP party members on the March.
(Additional reporting by Blanca Rodriguez)