No ruling in sight from Constitutional Court on abortion legislation

Government’s new reform may be put into place before decision made on Socialists’ law

With a controversial abortion reform still pending final approval, neither the government nor the courts seem in a rush to argue over the legality of the legislation that is currently in force.

This attitude represents a significant change from 2010, when the center-right Popular Party (PP), then in opposition, filed an appeal against the Socialist government’s new abortion legislation, which brought Spain in line with many European countries by introducing abortion on demand in the first trimester.

Back then, the PP claimed that the Sexual Reproduction and Voluntary Pregnancy Termination Act was in breach of the Spanish Constitution, and took its case to the Constitutional Court. No decision has been issued, however, and the court recently told the leftist coalition United Left (IU) that the case is pending a vote and a ruling.

But there are several issues holding the court back. For one, the PP is in power now, and one of the first items on its agenda was a legal reform to eliminate abortion on demand and bring Spain back to the earlier system that only permitted pregnancy terminations in cases of rape, accredited fetal deformities or danger to the mother’s health. In fact, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is going further this time, hoping to eliminate fetal deformity as a valid cause for abortion.

The proposal has met with significant rejection from the opposition and from broad sectors of society. In fact, it has even created an internal rift, with several PP officials publicly voicing their disagreement with the project.

The preferred solution appears to be to let events run their course as slowly as possible

The political debate has become so heated that several members of the Constitutional Court (which has a majority of conservative members) feel that issuing an opinion on the current legislation at the present time would be tantamount to “interfering” in politics.

They also feel that it makes little sense to vote on a piece of legislation that is soon going to be obsolete anyway.

But they are not the only ones to be taking it easy. The government does not seem to be in any particular hurry to get its reform passed, either: the draft bill was approved by the Cabinet in December 2013, and is still pending various reports by oversight agencies. By comparison, the current abortion legislation was passed in just six months.

The PP could, of course, drop its case before the Constitutional Court, but the fact that the appeal was backed by 50 deputies, some of whom no longer hold their seats, makes the situation all the more complicated. The preferred solution appears to be to let events run their course as slowly as possible.

If, however, the court should finally hand down a decision and establish that abortion on demand is in breach of the Spanish Constitution, the Socialist Party said it will put constitutional reform at the top of its political program once it reaches power again, with a view to changing abortion legislation once more.

The PP, which took office in November 2011, has until May 2015 to finally get its reform approved. But that would bring it very close to elections, with a very controversial issue still in its hands.

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