Minister resigns over Spain's failed abortion reform

23rd September 2014, Comments 0 comments

Spain's justice minister resigned on Tuesday over a failed bid to restrict women's right to abortion, which had sparked mass protests and international condemnation.

The reform claimed the first scalp in Spain's conservative government since it took power in 2011: Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, 55, a top member of the ruling Popular Party (PP).

The new law would have ended a woman's right to freely opt for an abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, standard in much of Europe.

Although Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government has survived protests over corruption scandals and economic cuts, the abortion reform proved too divisive to wrap up.

Rajoy told reporters on Tuesday his government would drop the most contentious proposals.

"We will continue studying ways to obtain greater acceptance of the reform, but I think I have taken the most sensible decision at this time," Rajoy told reporters.

"We cannot have a law that will be changed in a minute as soon as another government comes along."

Hours later Ruiz-Gallardon announced he was resigning.

"I have decided not only to leave the justice ministry but also to give up politics after 30 years," he told a news conference.

Ruiz-Gallardon left his post as mayor of Madrid to join Rajoy's government in 2011. He had previously been seen as a relatively progressive figure in the PP, but shifted to a more conservative stance as justice minister.

- 'Family support' -

Rajoy said his government would push on with a family-planning reform, but it would focus on only two areas: requiring girls aged under 18 to get their parents' consent to have an abortion and other "family support" measures.

He dropped the most controversial elements proposed by Ruiz-Gallardon, which had sparked street demonstrations by both opponents and supporters.

A draft bill approved in December aimed to allow abortion only in cases of rape reported to the police or a medically certified threat to the mother's physical or psychological health.

It would have ended a woman's right to opt for an abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality.

Existing regulation from 2010 allows women to choose to terminate a pregnancy in the first 14 weeks, extended up to 22 weeks if the foetus is seriously deformed or if the birth poses a serious risk to the mother.

Ruiz-Gallardon had said lawmakers had to balance the mother's rights with the unborn child's.

But he failed to gain enough support to bring his bill to parliament in the face of criticism by prominent PP figures.

- Political 'cowardice' -

After promising in its 2011 election campaign to "reinforce protection of the right to life", under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, Rajoy's government repeatedly postponed the reform.

The premier finally announced the scrapping of the controversial measures briskly to television cameras on the sidelines of a business forum on Tuesday.

Critics said he made the decision with one eye on next year's local and regional elections.

A leading anti-abortion group, Right to Life, branded Ruiz-Gallardon a "coward" for not standing up to political opponents and urged Spaniards not to vote for Rajoy.

"He has shown that he is capable of betraying his base, the 11 million voters who trusted in him," the group's spokeswoman Gador Joya said of the prime minister in a statement.

But abortion rights campaign group Decidir welcomed the news.

"We are back to a place we should never have left: the European standard, where a woman's decision is respected and abortions are carried out in conditions of safety and equality for all," said its spokeswoman Isabel Serrano.

"Rajoy decided that there were elections coming and the population was against a change in the law."

© 2014 AFP

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