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ABORTION REFORM

PM faces heated internal debate on abortion at upcoming PP meeting

Some party officials demand softening of bill to appease mainstream electorate

Carlos E. Cué
A protest in Málaga against the proposed reform to abortion legislation.
A protest in Málaga against the proposed reform to abortion legislation.JON NAZCA (REUTERS)

Almost no one inside the Popular Party (PP) feels comfortable about discussing the proposed abortion reform. "It is going to be the debate of the year," said one Rajoy administration official.

But the person who appears most ill-at-ease is Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is trying to play out the two sides of the controversy, according to different party sources. Rajoy, who approves of the reform, has spoken to various ministers about the bill. Sources and other analysts believe that Rajoy opted for the hardline course to attract the most conservative sectors of the electorate as the European Parliament race approaches in May.

On Wednesday, the PP will hold its first executive committee meeting of the year when no doubt discussions over the abortion reform will take center stage. Party "barons," such as Extremadura premier José Antonio Monago and Galicia's Alberto Núñez Feijóo, have publicly questioned the restrictions that are being proposed by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón.

The draft bill proposes changes to the current 2010 Abortion Law by placing restrictions on women seeking to undergo the procedure. Currently, a pregnancy can be terminated up to the 14th week without the necessity of having to give any explanation to physicians. Gallardón's bill — approved by the Cabinet last month — would allow for abortion in only two instances: rape, and the risk of serious psychological or physical harm to the mother.

No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one"

While Extremadura's Monago said he will bring up his complaints — "No one can deny anyone the right to be a mother, nor can anyone force someone to become one," he said during his New Year's message — no one expects Rajoy to take a position on the issue. The prime minister has other things on his mind, such as the slow but steady upswing in the economy, unemployment figures, and his first international trips of the year, which will take him to Washington for his long-awaited meeting with President Obama at the White House, and then Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum.

The PP members who have expressed concerned about abortion reform fear that the law will have an impact on the party's mainstream electorate. They cannot understand why Rajoy and his Cabinet brought the issue to the forefront at this time.

"No one was asking for it, except for an irrelevant minority. It wasn't necessary, and especially now when Rajoy can sell the improved economic figures. It is a serious mistake. We want to keep the most conservative voters happy but it is at a huge cost because we will lose the center-right," explained one PP official.

Some of the party's top female leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, who PP moderates are relying on to convey their concerns about the law, have not said a word since the bill was approved by the Cabinet on December 20. PP secretary general María Dolores de Cospedal and former Madrid premier Esperanza Aguirre, who is ready to offer her two cents on every issue, have also remained silent. But at Wednesday's meeting, they may be forced to risk airing their opinions.

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