Ruling coalition settles abortion dispute

AFTER MONTHS of what at moments seemed a serious coaltion crisis over the country's abortion legislation, ruling partners have agreed to wait for the verdict of the Constitutional Court before taking any further steps in the direction of possibly amending the law.
At the core of the problem, which kept the ruling coalition and the general public occupied for months, was a proposal of the ruling coalition liberals, the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), who wanted to unite with the parliamentary opposition to change the country's abortion law.

AFTER MONTHS of what at moments seemed a serious coaltion crisis over the country's abortion legislation, ruling partners have agreed to wait for the verdict of the Constitutional Court before taking any further steps in the direction of possibly amending the law.

At the core of the problem, which kept the ruling coalition and the general public occupied for months, was a proposal of the ruling coalition liberals, the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), who wanted to unite with the parliamentary opposition to change the country's abortion law.

The proposal came as a reaction to a motion from the Constitutional Court, submitted in 2001 by a group of MPs, including the ruling Christian Democrats (KDH), that attacked the existing abortion legislation as unconstitutional.

Before the parliamentary summer recess in July, ANO had managed to pass an amendment to the abortion law with the help of opposition votes. The amendment inserted a health ministry guideline that would allow abortions to be carried out in Slovakia up to the 24th week of pregnancy in cases involving serious genetic conditions.

ANO's amendment to the original abortion law, which only allows abortions to be carried out until the 12th week of a pregnancy, created immediate trouble within the ruling bloc.

The KDH declared it would demand that Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda recall all ANO ministers from the cabinet immediately upon the amendment's taking effect.

Meanwhile, ANO claimed that by approving the amendment, they only wanted to avoid a possible legal vacuum for abortions based on genetic reasons, as they expected that the Constitutional Court would uphold the KDH's claim that the legislation was unconstitutional.

A repeat vote was expected to occur at an upcoming parliamentary session this month, after President Rudolf Schuster vetoed the amended law. At the same time, observers had expected the Constitutional Court to deliver its ruling over the legislation on September 4.

However, the court has postponed its final ruling until it examines the matter more closely. The court's president, Ján Mazák, has turned to the European Court of Human Rights for reference, as the latter institution is currently deliberating over a similar issue.

A relief to the strained relations inside the ruling coalition came after ANO boss Pavol Rusko and other senior party officials, at a meeting in Banská Bystrica on September 6, agreed to withhold the repeat vote until after the ruling of the Constitutional Court.

The decision calmed down fears over the possible dissolution of the ruling coalition, spurred by clashes between the conservative and liberal factions of the ruling bloc (particularly KDH and ANO) over the delicate abortion issue.

KDH welcomed the ANO decision, which analysts hoped would help stabilise relations inside the cabinet.

PM Dzurinda was also happy with ANO's decision and promised that if the Constitutional Court rules the guideline unconstitutional, it would be the coalition's imperative to ensure that the current abortion legislation's framework is maintained.

"I expect that after the verdict of the Constitutional Court is delivered, there will be a cabinet-proposed law that will adjust the [legal] situation to be in line with what the court rules, bearing in mind that the current situation [in availability of abortions] is maintained," Dzurinda said on September 7.

Dzurinda further added that the current cabinet does not have the voters' mandate to change the current availability of abortions, neither by limiting nor expanding access to the service.

"If we wanted to change the current situation, we would first need to ask for the voters' mandate in the national elections campaign," the PM said.

Despite the fact that some ANO officials, such as head of the party's parliamentary caucus, Ľubomír Lintner, had still insisted that ANO should keep to its liberal principles and propose a repeat vote on the abortion amendment at the upcoming parliamentary session, they deferred to their party leadership, who, according to observers, had backed away in the interest of the cabinet's stability.

Rusko insisted, however, that ANO "cares a great deal about making sure that a legislative hole is not created and immediately after the Constitutional Court ruling, we will initiate a cabinet proposal [to fix the law]".

Mazák was not able to predict when the Constitutional Court would likely deliver its ruling; it is expected that it could take several months, or perhaps even a year, before the matter is decided.

Until then, the availability of abortions remains unchanged, leaving a choice for the women of Slovakia, allowing them to have an abortion up until the 12th week of pregnancy without citing any specific reasons.

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