ABORTION DEBATE

Andalusia and Catalonia join opposition against abortion reform

Justice minister reportedly contemplating minor changes to controversial legislation

Ruiz-Gallardón hoping to build consensus after consulting with a number of agencies

Abortion reform continues to be a major headache for the administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Ever since December, when the Cabinet approved the controversial changes – which critics say will take Spain back 30 years – opposition has been growing on the streets, in parliament and even within the ruling Popular Party (PP) itself, some of whose members have spoken out against the reforms.

In the wake of a historically large street protest held on March 8, International Women's Day, Spain's two most populated regions – Andalusia and Catalonia – are asking the Justice Ministry to pull the law altogether. Smaller autonomous communities, such as Asturias, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands, also oppose it, calling it “a regression” and “a frankly incomprehensible step backward.”

Faced with so much opposition, the author of the reform, Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón – whose popularity ratings have plummeted since he left the post of mayor of Madrid – is working on a few minor changes to the legislation based on reports he commissioned from several agencies.

The changes will only affect the most controversial part of the bill, involving accredited fetal deformities, which Gallardón wanted to eliminate as a valid reason for abortion. Other changes to the law will remain untouched, including the elimination of abortion on demand in the first 14 weeks. Instead, Spain will go back to an earlier system, which prohibits pregnancy terminations except for specific situations such as rape or danger to the mother's physical or mental health.

As it stands now, the bill does allow abortion when the fetus suffers from severe deformities, but only if it poses a genuine risk to the mother's mental health. Critics hold that women should not have to be considered mentally unbalanced to access abortion in these cases.

Even Prime Minister Rajoy has suggested that the new legislation might ultimately end up looking a lot like the 1985 abortion law, which did allow terminations in the event of fetal deformities. Sources in the executive confirmed that this is the direction where efforts are headed, in a bid to build some consensus around this controversial piece of legislation, which has even left Spanish Catholics divided.

The PP, which is already busy dealing with the economic crisis and the backlash against its austerity measures, is anxious to forge agreements over this socially sensitive issue. Yet it is unlikely that any party outside the ruling conservatives will support the elimination of the current legislation, which was passed under the earlier Socialist administration and brought Spain in line with the majority of European countries.

With reporting by Reyes Rincón, Miquel Noguer and Xosé Hermida.

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