Internal pressure pushed government to backtrack on abortion reform

Popular Party leaders fear damage that planned toughening of legislation could do at the polls

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón with Deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón with Deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.Samuel Sanchez (EL PAÍS)

The government’s planned reform of Spain’s current abortion laws is not liked by many – not even the Popular Party itself, it seems. While members of the ruling PP have fallen short of openly criticizing the new legislation presented by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, internal sources admit that after months of internal pressure, there will be modifications in order to reach the “greatest consensus” possible, as had been publicly demanded by regional barons such as the premiers of Extremadura, José Antonio Monago, and Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo.

Gallardón’s reforms were approved by the Cabinet in December 2013, and included the elimination of first-trimester abortion on demand, which was introduced by the Socialists in 2010 to bring Spain in line with most European countries. The minister’s planned reforms would have taken the country back to a more restrictive law that made abortion illegal in all but a few cases, such as in the event of rape, given that he planned on eliminating the clause that, since 1985, had allowed pregnancy terminations if there were serious and accredited fetal deformities.

The reforms would have taken the country back to a more restrictive law making abortion illegal in all but a few cases

But on Monday it emerged that the Justice Ministry has decided to cancel that controversial part of its abortion reform bill.

And it would appear that this decision was based in part on pressure coming from PP headquarters in Madrid’s Génova street. Sources say that there were internal calls for the government to “look once more at the text,” which was on track to take its next step toward becoming law in July, barring any last-minute surprises.

But despite the government’s backtrack this week, sources say there are still PP leaders who are unhappy with the planned legislation, with some wanting it to be scrapped altogether. On Monday, the deputy speaker in Congress, Celia Villalobos (PP), once again broke the party line and voiced her opposition to the legislation, saying that she hoped it “never got as far as Congress.”

Some PP leaders are still unhappy with the planned legislation, and several want to see it scrapped altogether

The argument voiced by PP members who oppose the plan is that most voters and party supporters do not want to see a law that is tougher than the one that was in place between 1985 and 2010.

Meanwhile, at PP headquarters in Genova street, there are fears the measure will mobilize votes for left-wing parties. After the summer, the countdown will begin for regional and municipal elections, as well as general elections in 2015. As such, the timetable is of key importance to the party. “It either has to happen in July, or not at all,” say the voices in the party who fear the damage the issue could do to the PP at the polls.

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