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In a matter of days, the "phantom" announcement of an anti-abortion protocol in the Spanish autonomous community of Castilla y León has rapidly escalated into a conflict between the regional leaders and Spain's central government, and it is growing. There has not yet been any official communication from the Castilla y León executive chaired by Alfonso Fernández Mañueco on the exact measures that the region is proposing to combat the interruption of women's pregnancies. However, between the PSOE-Podemos leadership in Madrid and the PP-Vox coalition in Valladolid, a rapid-fire communications war has begun: with press conferences, institutional statements, letters and ministerial orders.

The conflict centred on the huge territory in north-western Spain began with statements made by the vice-president of the Castilla y León executive, Juan García-Gallardo, of the far-right party Vox. He declared that women in the community who wanted to terminate their pregnancy would from now on have to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus before proceeding with the abortion. The senior partner in the regional coalition, the conservative People's Party (PP), did not at any time contradict the statements of the Vox vice-president, a silence which set off the alarms in the halls of the Spanish central government. Spain has a relatively liberal abortion law, but a strong conservative establishment. 

First demand

On Sunday evening, the Spanish government sent a ministerial order to the Castilla y León executive urging the regional leadership to refrain from approving or applying any type of measure that "violates the current regulations regarding the voluntary termination of pregnancy". And the text threatened the autonomous community with the use of "all the mechanisms of the legal system" if coercion against women who wanted an abortion were to become a reality. It should be borne in mind that at that time the only thing that was the table were García-Gallardo's statements.

Castilla y León responds

What was the response from Castilla y León? In an institutional statement, president Mañueco backed down - some reports indicate that he did so due to pressure from the PP headquarters - and affirmed that he would not force "anything" on the women and health professionals of Castilla y León with regard to abortion. He admitted that listening to the heartbeat of the fetus would be coercion of pregnant women and insisted that no rights would be violated in his autonomous community.

Second order from Madrid

The problem, however, is that Mañueco did not deny that his executive was considering measures with regard to the voluntary termination of pregnancy. In fact, he confirmed that changes would be implemented regarding this matter in his territory. And this is what scares the government of Pedro Sánchez. That is why this Tuesday a ministerial order was sent from Madrid to Valladolid stating that the Castilla y León autonomous community has no powers in this area, as a preliminary step to appealing to the Constitutional Court. In other words, a manouevre to reiterate to the Mañueco executive that he has no competence in any area related to women's reproductive rights as well as to turn on the engines of the judicial process.

Mañueco's letter to the Spanish government

The request gave Mañueco ten days to respond, but the Castilla y León president moved quickly and by midday this Tuesday had already responded to the Spanish government by letter. In the communication he assures that "there will be no change in the care protocol for the termination of pregnancy". The government should "abandon its efforts in fictitious matters", states the text, and instead "focus on reality and its areas of competency", calling the whole conflict an "unreal situation" and a "non-existent matter", and adding a list of complaints in which he accuses the central executive of showing incompetence.



Imminent appeal to the Constitutional Court

Although Mañueco asserts that thanks to this letter he has "clarified" all the doubts related to his government's anti-abortion campaign, the government in Madrid does not consider the communication a valid response. "An official answer is needed", Spanish government sources told this newspaper. Assuming the possibility that, when Valladolid responds to the request of the Spanish government in official form, the message will be unsatisfactory, the executive of PSOE and Podemos are already sharpening their knives.

Sources from the Spanish executive state that they have already done their homework and that they are aware of Constitutional Court jurisprudence relating to the health sector in connection with the Basque Country, and that the Spanish executive has experience in presenting appeals before Spain's court of guarantees on aspects related to the invasion of competences, thanks to the Catalan independence process. Thus, the Spanish government states that it is prepared to submit an appeal to the Constitutional Court if it considers that, indeed, the powers of the central executive have been invaded.