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ABORTION DEBATE

Spanish Congress to examine controversial abortion reform in July

Socialists suspect conservative government is delaying passage of bill until after European elections

A protest against abortion reform in Madrid on March 13. Ampliar foto
A protest against abortion reform in Madrid on March 13.

Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón is planning to take his abortion reform to Congress in July, when parliamentary groups will analyze it and suggest amendments, government sources told EL PAÍS.

The executive of Mariano Rajoy is firmly set on getting this controversial piece of legislation approved, although it is making sure that its passage through parliament does not coincide with the campaign run for the European elections on May 25.

Ever since December 2013, when the cabinet approved the controversial draft bill changing existing abortion laws – 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.

The conservatives want to eliminate first-trimester abortion on demand, which was introduced by the Socialists in 2010 to bring Spain in line with most European countries. The reform will take 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.

But Ruiz-Gallardón has gone even further this time, attempting to eliminate the clause that, since 1985, allowed pregnancy terminations if there were serious and accredited fetal deformities.

However,  the outcry against the idea has been so strong that the government has partially backtracked, and is due to make some changes to the draft.

On Wednesday, Rajoy and Ruiz-Gallardón once again defended their plan to take Spain back to the system of no abortion, with only a few exceptions. Their main argument is that such a law was in effect for 25 years (from 1985 to 2010) under several Socialist administrations that failed to change it.

If this is a perverse law, how is it possible that for 25 years it was in force in Spain and you did not protest it?”

“If this is a perverse law, your honor, I ask you: how is it possible that for 25 years it was in force in Spain and you did not protest it?” said Ruiz-Gallardón in reply to a question by Socialist spokeswoman Elena Valenciano. “How is it possible that the last Socialist administration did not want to change it for eight years? And how is it possible that you did not even introduce a proposal for change in your last campaign platform?”

What is holding up the proceedings is the fact that the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), Spain's legal watchdog, and the Prosecutors’ Council have yet to turn in their reports on the bill, without which it cannot be sent to Congress for review. The conservative representative of the CGPJ happens to be the one member who has yet to make her contribution to that agency’s report, while the Prosecutors’ Council, with a conservative majority, has yet to begin debating the bill. It plans to do so right after the European elections.

By comparison, much more complex bills have been analyzed and reports produced in half the time.

Many women’s life decisions depend on your games, on your electoral maneuvering, and that is just not right”

The Socialist spokeswoman confronted Ruiz-Gallardón on this issue. “There are many women in Spain who wonder whether abortion is legal or not, and their life decisions depend on your games, on your electoral maneuvering, and that is just not right. Think about it, I appeal to your sense of responsibility. Despite the rejection that you know this law is getting, which is why you are hiding it during your campaigning, are you going to bring this law to Parliament?” she asked.

Ruiz-Gallardón denied any delay in the reports, much less a deliberate one. “For a draft bill to be analyzed by the advisory agencies within a period no longer than the one they took to report on [the Socialist abortion reform] project of 2010, and to say that we are hiding it... Pardon me, but you are offending the CGPJ and the Prosecutors’ Council,” replied the minister.

If things go according to the government’s plans, the rest of the parliamentary proceedings would begin in September, with the law ready to come out of parliament by the end of the year.