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Abortion issue threatens coalition unity

IN AN escalating conflict over a draft amendment to the country's law on abortions, two cabinet parties have sharpened their rhetoric in defence of their opposing stances on the matter, while observers wonder what impact the dispute will have on the ruling coalition.
Following its national congress last weekend, the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party said it was determined to go ahead with its draft amendment to the abortions law, because if it did not, it would "lose face" with its voters.
The amendment aims to expand the existing legislation to include the possibility of aborting foetuses up to the 24th week of pregnancy when serious genetic disorders are suspected.

IN AN escalating conflict over a draft amendment to the country's law on abortions, two cabinet parties have sharpened their rhetoric in defence of their opposing stances on the matter, while observers wonder what impact the dispute will have on the ruling coalition.

Following its national congress last weekend, the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party said it was determined to go ahead with its draft amendment to the abortions law, because if it did not, it would "lose face" with its voters.

The amendment aims to expand the existing legislation to include the possibility of aborting foetuses up to the 24th week of pregnancy when serious genetic disorders are suspected.

Currently, this is only possible through a Health Ministry guideline, because the abortions law itself enables abortions to be carried out only up until the 12th week of pregnancy.

ANO proposed the draft amendment to legislators because the Constitutional Court is currently deliberating on the complicated legal situation surrounding abortions and is due to rule on the matter later in the summer.

The party is concerned that if the court rules that existing ministry guidelines are in conflict with the Slovak constitution, it would no longer be possible to carry out abortions in the later stages of pregnancy. Doctors say that identifying genetic illnesses is only possible after the 12th week of pregnancy.

ANO's coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (KDH), are strictly opposing the draft amendment, and have called on ANO to withdraw it from parliament. The legislators are expected to vote on the draft at the upcoming parliamentary session starting on June 17.

KDH head Pavol Hrušovský said earlier that his party would "not cooperate in parliament with anyone who supports the draft".

He also said that because changes in the state's legislation on abortions were not part of the cabinet's programme, the opening of the issue by one coalition party was a "breach of the coalition agreement".

But ANO has remained equally firm. Not only did the liberals refuse to withdraw their proposed draft amendment, they also started a public petition collecting signatures from citizens who support the measure.

"I cannot imagine what we would say to our voters if we allowed abortions [in the later stages of pregnancy] to be banned in Slovakia while we were in the cabinet," said ANO chairman Pavol Rusko at his party congress in Piešťany on May 31.

"If we stepped back, we would lose face with all those we have tried to convince of our party's liberal orientation," he said.

The remaining two coalition partners, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), however, take the KDH position, saying that ANO should have consulted its ruling partners before submitting a draft on such a sensitive matter to parliament.

On June 2, Pavol Minárik, head of the KDH's parliamentary caucus, told The Slovak Spectator that ANO was to blame for a looming coalition crisis over the abortions amendment.

"The KDH did not open this issue, ANO did," Minárik said.

"The situation is really serious now. However, what happens if the amendment is passed in parliament is still a hypothetical question at this stage, and I believe we will manage to reach agreement [with ANO]."

If the coalition partners do not find a way out of their deadlock, it could lead to parliamentary opposition "actively participating in solving a coalition dispute" for the first time in the history of independent Slovakia, said Ľuboš Kubín, analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

"The problem will most likely be solved in parliament, but it is hard to say what that would mean. The opposition parties could either back the draft, or support its shelving, or simply vote against it," he said.

Although several opposition parties said they would support the ANO draft amendment, it remains uncertain how opposition MPs would vote in the end.

According to Kubín, however, to avoid problems inside the coalition, it would be ideal to "simply wait for the Constitutional Court ruling and then act".

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