INTERVIEW

“Abortion causes trauma for everyone”

Justice Minister Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón speaks out on controversial reform proposals

Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón at the Justice Ministry.
Alberto Ruíz-Gallardón at the Justice Ministry.GORKA LEJARCEGI

Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón arrives at his interview with EL PAÍS after a heated exchange in Congress — the first of many brushes the justice minister can expect with opposition lawmakers. He intends to explain controversial comments made over the past week concerning abortion. On Wednesday, Gallardón ignited a fierce national debate when he gave his reasoning for the plans of the Popular Party (PP) to change the abortion law, stating, among other things, that "systemic gender violence" is a primary cause for women to abort.

A politician viewed by many as one of the PP's most liberal members, Gallardón doesn't make any excuses for what he said on the subject last week. In fact, during the interview, he reaffirmed his viewpoint.

Question. Does the issue of ETA now have a political dimension, as the interior minister has said?

Answer. ETA is a terrorist group, and has carried out the biggest attack on democracy in this nation's history — that is the reality. Beyond that, there are multiple secondary factors that can be analyzed, such as convictions and sentences, penitentiary policies, rehabilitation of prisoners, and so on. ETA's so-called "political goal" is merely a distraction from what it really is — an armed, violent group that cannot exist in a country of law and order.

Q. Are there going to be any pardons for ETA prisoners?

A. No. The government has no plans to pardon any ETA prisoners.

Q. You say that the abortion reform the PP government is proposing will protect mothers. What exactly is threatening women who want to be mothers today in Spain?

A. Systemic situations that close the doors to other alternatives when it comes to unwanted pregnancies. There is systemic gender violence — if that didn't exist, women could look at other alternatives rather than interrupting their pregnancies.

Q. What type of gender violence are you referring to?

A. I think there is a fear among many women of losing their jobs or not being able to obtain employment because they become pregnant. I think there is a lot of pressure on migrants; I think women who find themselves in this situation lack the necessary policies and support so they can find other alternatives rather than interrupting their pregnancies.

Q. Of course, the government can introduce laws that protect pregnant women in the workforce. But what does that have to do with the abortion law?

A. A lot. Lawmakers have forgotten their obligations to provide women with options so that they can make their own decisions. And what surprises me is that a good part of the public has overlooked the importance of the rights of women who want to become mothers and has focused instead on the fact that there will be a modification of the abortion law.

Q. There isn't any criticism over the fact that the government wants to simultaneously present those options. It focuses instead on the proposed curtailing of women's abortion rights and because of your opinion that "violence" makes women want to have an abortion.

A. This systemic pressure is applicable in certain cases. The lack of assistance causes many women to lose all options for free choice. That is why we need a broad-reaching plan, not one that only legalizes abortion but that also provides assistance to those who want to be mothers.

Q. Are we going to go back to a law of hypothesis or one that is a mix of hypothetical cases with certain time frames?

A. On three occasions — in 1985, 1996 and 1999 — the Constitutional Court ruled that the conceived and the unborn have just as many rights as women. When such a conflict exists, it is up to lawmakers to resolve it. What the government cannot do is introduce a law that fails to protect one of the two parties during a certain number of weeks.

Q. The 1983 law addressed the supposed "risks that a mother may face" without giving any time limits, so she can have an abortion at any moment. In that sense, the current law is more restrictive: after the 22nd week of pregnancy a woman can have an abortion if there is a risk to the mother's health or the fetus has an incurable disease. That is why I am asking. Are you going to return to the system of hypothetical situations or will there be certain time frames given to obtain an abortion?

A. We have given ourselves one year to draft the law. But I am clear what type of law I would like to have; very clear.

Q. Okay, then tell me.

A. No, because it my duty to hear people out first.

Q. According to the 2002 Law of Patient Autonomy, which was passed by the PP government at the time, anyone as young as 16 years old can refuse medical treatment of their own free will without having to seek their parents' consent. So why is a 16-year-old mature enough to do this but isn't mature enough to have an abortion without their parents' consent [as the current law states]?

A. Because of the dramatic consequences a woman faces when she has an abortion.

Q. Similar dramatic consequences can exist for anyone who refuses medical attention...

A. I believe that abortion causes trauma for everyone. It may be inevitable in some cases, but it still causes trauma. I don't think there is any comparison with other situations.

Q. Why is the PP waiting for the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling on gay marriage but isn't waiting for a ruling on the abortion law?

A. Because the Constitutional Court has already ruled on abortion.

Q. You said once before that gay marriage is constitutional. Did the PP make a mistake in appealing the law?

A. You can never say that asking the Constitutional Court for its opinion is a mistake.

Q. If the court upholds the law will you keep it intact?

A. Yes.

Q. And if it rules against it, will all the marriages that took place over the past seven years be declared void?

A. I don't want to get into any hypothetical situations without first having the ruling at hand.

Q. Do you believe that the Supreme Court should help those victims of Franco-era crimes who have asked for compensation?

A. Any victim of any crime has the right for legal protection that corresponds to the case.

Q. Do you think those crimes should be investigated?

A. That is not a decision for the government.

Q. Do you agree with the attorney general's decision not to appeal the jury acquittal of [ex-Valencia regional premier] Francisco Camps?

A. I perfectly understand the reasoning behind the decision. With a jury verdict, your options to appeal are very limited.

Q. Is there anything remaining to investigate in the terrorist attacks of March 11, 2004?

A. We have a ruling. You can't investigate something that has already been settled. But if there is any new evidence we will look into it.

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