Cabinet delays abortion reform approval

Move seen as slap in face for Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who could step down

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón made abortion reform his star project.
Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón made abortion reform his star project.EFE

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz Gallardón has been discredited by his own Popular Party (PP) government after the Cabinet failed to approve his abortion reform before the deadline set by the minister himself.

In July, Gallardón said that his reform would get the green light before the end of the summer. But government sources now say that the executive has no plans for it anytime soon.

At the regular press conference after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría avoided giving clear answers on whether the reform is being scrapped altogether.

“This is a complicated law and a very sensitive issue socially,” she said. “From the beginning we were aiming for consensus, and that is not easy. But that is the task up ahead, and we are working on it. No effort will be spared.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is not likely to ask Gallardón to resign over this issue

It was an indirect way of saying that the bill will never prosper, as political consensus is impossible to all effects and purposes. Even the PP has faced internal division over a text that many observers feel would take Spain back several decades in terms of abortion legislation.

Among the opposition, support for the bill is practically non-existent.

Gallardón’s original reform bill included the elimination of first-trimester abortion on demand, which was introduced by the Socialists in 2010 to bring Spain in line with most other European countries. Under his plans, abortion would become illegal in all but a couple of cases, including rape. The minister was even considering eliminating a clause that had allowed pregnancy terminations since 1985 if the fetus was found to have serious and accredited deformities.

This latter notion raised such a scandal that Gallardón himself backtracked on it in June, but even that was not enough. 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 “would never get as far as Congress.”

Gallardón could unilaterally decide to step down anyway, according to several sources

The justice minister is now left in a delicate position, as he had made abortion reform his star project. Asked if Gallardón will resign, Deputy PM Santamaría gave a noncommittal answer and failed to clarify whether he had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

By not approving the bill now, the government is effectively pushing the issue into 2015, an election year. And several party heavyweights at the regional level have already said that abortion reform would hurt them at the polls, making it unlikely that the bill will get Congressional passage anytime next year.

Rajoy is not likely to ask Gallardón to resign over this issue, but the minister could unilaterally decide to step down, sources familiar with the situation said.

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