One of the government’s longest-running legislative projects – as well as its most controversial – is returning to Congress for discussion.
Abortion reform was one of the Popular Party (PP)’s star initiatives when it won the general elections of November 2011. But nearly four years later, with new elections around the corner, the once-ambitious reform has been scaled down to a mere tweak.
While then-Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón planned to eliminate abortion on demand in the first trimester and take Spain back to a case-based system, all the government is trying to do now is ensure that 16- and 17-year-olds are required to secure parental consent before terminating their pregnancies.
The PP deliberately postponed this final phase until after the municipal and regional elections of May 24
But even that is proving to be difficult. On April 15, during an initial attempt to get this change approved, five PP deputies broke ranks: one of them, Evan Durán, entered a conscience vote that went against the party line, while four others refused to vote at all.
The reason was not that they oppose parental consent, but rather that they are hardline pro-life campaigners who want to eliminate abortion altogether, and thus disagree with the watered-down version of the reform.
While breaking with party discipline is theoretically subject to fines, neither of the five has been notified of any such penalty. But one PP deputy, Celia Villalobos, who did vote against abortion reform at an earlier session because she supported abortion on demand, was immediately fined around €400.
The text is returning to the floor on Thursday, and this time, the PP believes there will be no more wayward attitudes among its own. After this, the text will go to the Senate and back to Congress for final approval, presumably in September, just before the dissolution of parliament.
While an official date for general elections has not been set yet, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy appears unwilling to bring them forward, making November the most likely month. The PP needs to get the legislation passed before that, yet it deliberately postponed this final phase until after the municipal and regional elections of May 24, in order to avoid any further public outcry ahead of the ballot.
Social opposition to the elimination of abortion on demand – which was introduced in 2010 by the previous Socialist administration – was so strong that it triggered the resignation of Justice Minister Ruiz-Gallardón in September 2014. This official had gone as far as to propose a ban on abortions in cases of accredited fetal deformities, an idea that met with rejection even in the ranks of his own party.