MADRID, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Spain's ruling People's Party (PP) sought on Wednesday to stem dissent within its ranks over a law that will make it harder for a woman to get an abortion, saying it would seek consensus over the planned legislation.
The draft, unveiled by the centre-right government last month, would only allow abortion in the case of rape or if the pregnancy posed a serious physical or mental health risk to the mother.
The new rules, which prompted protests across the country, would make Spain one of the most restrictive European countries on terminations.
Seen by critics as a bid by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's PP to rally core conservative support, the law jars with a trend of greater ease of access across the region, after Ireland legalised abortion under limited circumstances this year.
As it stands, the draft law eliminates the option of abortion on request in the case of malformation of the foetus. It alters a law that had allowed the procedure on request within a 14 week term.
But the PP has faced increasing criticism from some high-ranking members, who say women ought to have the right to choose.
Parliament's deputy speaker Celia Villalobos on Wednesday called for PP lawmakers to be allowed to vote freely on the bill rather than according to the party line.
"I have no doubt that everything will be done so that the future law gains the maximum consensus," party Secretary General Maria Dolores de Cospedal said in a news conference after a meeting of PP leaders in Madrid.
The PP has a majority in parliament, meaning it should still be able to pass the law as it winds its way through Congress and the Senate, unless there is a major rebellion, and there has so far been no suggestion the draft will be watered down.
Cospedal confirmed that Villalobos had raised the question of free votes in the meeting, although she said that the issue was not addressed any further.
Several party heavyweights, including the president of Spain's southerly Extremadura region, have publically questioned the new restrictions, but none of these except Villalobos actually has a seat in Congress. (Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Alison Williams)