Rajoy must respond to the voices within the PP that are calling for consensus on abortion reform
The rebellion within the conservative Popular Party (PP) that proposed changes to the abortion law has aroused is an obstacle that the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was probably not expecting. This internal dissidence is a growing reality, one that the party leadership’s best efforts were unable to silence on Wednesday, at a meeting of the PP’s national executive committee. At a subsequent appearance before the media, the controversy on the abortion bill proposals forced its way onto center stage.
The critical voices, generally moderate, are calling only for individual members to have the freedom to vote as they wish on the legislation as it passes through Congress. Above all, they are calling for consensus on the issue, which currently cannot be said to exist within the conservative party.
The tone of Rajoy’s response, in which he spoke about “enriching” the law “among all of us,” suggest that he is sensitive to the discrepant voices, and might open the door to modifications to a draconian bill, which would prohibit abortion even in the case of grave deformations of the fetus — unless they are “incompatible with life,” and involve a certain risk to the mother’s health. That assumes, of course, that these words are not a mere ruse to gain time, in the hope of sidestepping the crisis that the law has created among the public, both at home and abroad.
The repeal of the Socialists’ 2010 abortion law — which established a system of time limits, as is the case in most of Europe — was an electoral promise made by the PP, but it was couched in terms that were sufficiently vague so as not to cause unnecessary alarm. But the regressive, religious-right intention hidden behind this promise has surfaced in the new legislation, which has already been approved by the Cabinet. In the 1980s, the PP opposed legislation passed in 1985 by the Socialists, which allowed for abortion under certain circumstances. But now, the government is pointing to this legislation as an example, and filed an appeal before the Constitutional Court against the 2010 reform.
The party’s chief objection to the current law is the fact that it enshrines abortion as a woman’s right, as well as the fact that, in exceptional cases — i.e. the probability of family conflict — minors aged 16 or 17 can terminate a pregnancy without informing their parents.
The law as it stood was a good one, in the view of a majority of Spanish citizens, according to all the polls — even among Popular Party voters. Instead of the slight retouches it suggested in its electoral program, the government has opted for an entire recasting, one that is so regressive that it has even prompted rejection among the ranks of its own party.
The justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the only PP figure who on Wednesday ventured to openly defend the bill, now stands relatively isolated. Although it is worth bearing in mind that the bill was passed by the Cabinet, and that its main points were announced months ago. If the aim was to divert attention from greater problems, the tactic was a mistake. The government still has time to shelve the bill. Or in lieu of this, to opt for more moderate legislation, in accordance with individual rights. Otherwise, it will be responsible for the grave damage to the health of many women, which will inevitably be caused by the proposed law in its present form.