The conservative leader of Spain’s Castilla y León region has defied his far-right coalition partners by insisting that a series of controversial anti-abortion protocols that prompted the central government to launch legal action will not be enacted.
Last week the far-right Vox party, which governs Castilla y León in coalition with the larger conservative People’s party (PP), announced “pro-life” proposals that would oblige doctors to offer women seeking terminations a 4D scan, a chance to listen to the foetal heartbeat, and a psychological consultation.
While women wanting an abortion would have been free to turn down the new services, critics argued the proposals would put pressure on those seeking terminations and reverse progress on women’s rights.
The regional vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, said the measures, originally due to come into effect on Monday, “would be worth it if even just one baby who was due to be aborted is born”. He praised similar protocols that have already been introduced in Hungary by the government of the far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, saying they offered women “alternatives”.
The idea was swiftly condemned by the Socialist-led government of prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, which told the regional government to drop “any actions that would infringe laws on sexual and reproductive health and the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy” or face action at the constitutional court.
On Tuesday, Castilla y León’s PP president, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, wrote to Sánchez to inform him that the proposals would not proceed. The letter followed a TV appearance on Monday in which he stated that his government would not do anything that could result in pressure being put on women seeking abortions, adding: “Doctors won’t be forced to do anything and women won’t be forced to do anything.”
In the letter, he accused the Sánchez administration of “tackling a nonexistent issue with unusual harshness” and said the central government would do better to focus “on the real problems people face”.
Fernández Mañueco’s stance angered Vox, which said it would consider its place in the regional government if the measures were not enacted. It also accused the PP of “swinging to the left”.
The proposals had met with ethical and medical objections from doctors. In a statement, the Spanish Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics urged the regional government to reconsider the protocols, saying doctors had to respect women’s legal rights to access abortion. It went on to point out that the use of 4D scans was not routinely recommended and that Doppler ultrasounds should be used “prudently” in the first trimester of pregnancy because of the potential risks to the foetus.
Spain is due to hold a general election in December, and the PP, led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, are currently ahead of the ruling Socialists in the polls.
Feijóo’s is endeavouring to bring his party back to the political centre ground after his predecesor, Pablo Casado, spent years dragging it further to the right in an effort to head off competition from Vox. But his efforts have been complicated by the PP’s decision to invite Vox into government in Castilla y León last March, and by the new abortion controversy in the region.
Feijóo said the Sánchez government had overreacted in an effort to distract attention from its “botched” reforms of sexual consent legislation, which has allowed some convicted sex offenders to have their sentence reduced on appeal.
“When institutional respect is lost in a country and the government turns into an electoral agent, then you get into a place that I find much more worrying than the false controversy over this protocol,” he told Telemadrid.
Last December, Spain’s congress passed legislation allowing women aged 16 and 17 to have abortions without parental consent and scrapping the previous three-day period of reflection for those seeking a termination.
Speaking before the vote, Spain’s equality minister, Irene Montero, said the new law “allow[s] us to exercise freedom over our bodies, with the state recognising the full citizenship of more than half the population who are women”.
The legislation was passed by 190 votes to 154, with five abstentions. Both the PP and Vox voted against the changes.