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Cabinet in crisis

CHURCH officials have appealed to President Rudolf Schuster to veto a recently passed amendment to the abortion law that has led the coalition Christian Democrats (KDH) to declare a cabinet crisis.
During special sermons on July 5, one at a pilgrimage site in the eastern Slovak town of Levoča and another in the western Slovak town of Nitra, top representatives of the Slovak Catholic Church such as Bishop František Tondra and Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec appealed to Schuster to "make a wise decision", as Tondra put it, and veto the law.
Under existing legislation abortions may be carried out until the 12th week of pregnancy without having to specify a reason. After that time, pregnancy can be aborted until the 24th week if the embryo is genetically damaged, under health ministry guidelines.


Revision to abortion law deepens coalition plight; president torn between supporters and opponents of law
photo: TASR

CHURCH officials have appealed to President Rudolf Schuster to veto a recently passed amendment to the abortion law that has led the coalition Christian Democrats (KDH) to declare a cabinet crisis.

During special sermons on July 5, one at a pilgrimage site in the eastern Slovak town of Levoča and another in the western Slovak town of Nitra, top representatives of the Slovak Catholic Church such as Bishop František Tondra and Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec appealed to Schuster to "make a wise decision", as Tondra put it, and veto the law.

Under existing legislation abortions may be carried out until the 12th week of pregnancy without having to specify a reason. After that time, pregnancy can be aborted until the 24th week if the embryo is genetically damaged, under health ministry guidelines.

Fearing that the Constitutional Court, which is currently deliberating over the legislation, might abolish the guideline regulating abortions based on genetic reasons, the liberal New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) coalition party inserted it into the law through an amendment. But its passage has angered the KDH and driven them to appeal to Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to recall all ANO ministers if the law takes effect.

The clergy made its stance in the dispute clear in emotional speeches at the two sermons. "What they call abortion today in Slovak means the killing of babies," cardinal Korec said in a sermon in Nitra on July 5.

"If my mother had decided to have an abortion she would not have been deciding over her body but about me, because it would be me who would not be standing here today," the cardinal said in a trembling voice.

The ruling coalition remains divided over the law and speaker of parliament and KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský has even refused to sign the law himself, a formal step carried out before any law passed in parliament is sent to the president. Instead, Hrušovský has forwarded the law to Dzurinda and Schuster arguing that existing laws do not specify in what order constitutional officials must sign laws passed in parliament.

KDH accuses ANO of breaking the coalition agreement, which states that none of the four ruling partners shall unite with the opposition to have a law passed without the consent of their ruling partners.

"The situation is serious and I stand behind my words that we have a cabinet crisis in Slovakia because one coalition partner has flagrantly breached the coalition agreement," said Hrušovský.

ANO, meanwhile, argued it did not break the coalition treaty and maintained that the KDH was trying to impose Christian ideology on this central European post-communist country.

"I am shocked at the [KDH's] intolerance and inability to accept an opinion other than that held by the KDH," ANO boss Pavol Rusko said on July 5.

A large burden now lies with the president who has a deadline of 15 days from receiving the law to decide on the fate of the legislation and perhaps the ruling coalition too. If Schuster signs the law the future of the coalition is at stake despite Dzurinda's earlier statements that "there is no better alternative" in Slovakia for a new ruling coalition.

If Schuster vetoes the law, a repeated vote in parliament would be held and an absolute majority, at least 76 out of the 150 Slovak legislators, would have to support the law. In the July 3 vote only 70 MPs approved the draft. Analysts believe that by rejecting the law Schuster would give time to legislators to discuss the problem inside the coalition and also to wait for the Constitutional Court verdict on the abortion legislation that is expected later in the summer.

Schuster, however, would not comment on his plans in the delicate situation. He tried to win some more time on July 8 by refusing to deal with the law until Hrušovský's signature is added.

Pro-choice groups such as Možnosť voľby (Pro-Choice) meanwhile welcomed the revision and insisted that the KDH has had a secret agenda to ban abortions in Slovakia.

"No one is forcing Catholic women to have abortions, and so the KDH and the church should stop trying to impose their views on all women," Oľga Pietruchová from Možnosť voľby told The Slovak Spectator.

Darina Malová, analyst with Bratislava's Comenius University, noted the head of state had a "massive responsibility on his shoulders". According to Malová, the cabinet has to closely consider the consequences of a possible split as it would open avenues for current leaders to possibly form alliances with opposition parties.

"Dzurinda and not the KDH, will in the end make the final decision whether or not to recall ANO ministers. Prior to that decision, all cabinet parties should consider the consequences of such a step," Malová said.

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