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Parliamentary hot potato

The abortion bill is not causing a crisis in the PP, but the government must reconsider it

Nobody in his right mind could expect the defeat of a government sustained by a clear parliamentary majority, on the matter of abortion or on any other. Voting discipline, which is the basis of political party organization in Spain, has functioned smoothly without the least difficulty, even though the unusual method of a secret ballot was deployed in Congress on the abortion reform draft. The Popular Party (PP) has emerged intact from the trial of strength essayed by the opposition, which no doubt will continue its attempts to torpedo the abortion bill — so the swords are still out.

This is why only relative importance need be attached to the PP’s victory over the various parliamentary minority groups — including the Socialists (PSOE) — that have been fighting to block the bill. It is a case of professional politicians doing what their chiefs expect of them: delivering a positive vote, and ensuring that the disagreements between party members did not show on the surface. This explains why a deputy such as Celia Villalobos, who has publicly expressed her opposition to the bill, admits that she voted against the PSOE’s motion on Tuesday, adding that the unanimity shown in the ranks of the PP “is not real, of course.”

A different matter is the price that this operation, championed by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, is going to cost the PP in the longer term. The reasons that might be motivating him are still obscure, apart from his repeated references to an election promise. To deny women the right to decide on pregnancy termination within a reasonable time period runs against the majority opinion in Spanish society. Nor is any light shed on the matter by certain bizarre arguments, such as the economic benefits that may derive from a greater number of births, if tighter limits are placed on abortion. To prohibit abortion even in cases of grave fetal deformities — except if they involve an accredited risk to the mother’s mental health — is a proposition that is very difficult to accept, outside certain religious circles.

All this means that the hot potato is still in the hands of the government. The bill on pregnancy termination has yet to come before Congress for debate, while it awaits a series of reports that are obligatory before this step is reached. In any case, the definitive decision falls to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The government is running a considerable risk if it finally yields to the concerns of a certain sector of the PP electorate (the religious right), which finds the present law objectionable because it was passed under the Zapatero government. To push the abortion bill through parliament may further deepen the doubts prevalent in the more moderate sector of the party, which, like a majority of Spanish people, fails to see the need for waging this battle.

A law based on time limits, such as the existing one, is reasonable in the European context. To go ahead with a bill for a far more restrictive law would not only convey negative messages to society, but would afford proof of a political style that reeks of the rancid past. The future requires far-reaching consensus between the parties, and not the sectarian abuse of parliamentary majorities.

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