Legalization of abortion experienced a historic debate in the Argentinian Senate, but 2018 will not be remembered as the year of its passage. After having passed a first stress test in the lower house, an anti-abortion majority triumphed with 38 votes against and 31 for.
With thousands of people stationed in front of the Congress in the rain — mainly “greens” supporting the passage, although “light blue” banners opposing it also dotted the streets — the session started at 10:26 a.m. on Wednesday (August 8) with the balance clearly tipped to rejection (El Clarín, in Spanish).
Seventy-two Argentinian senators had to decide if voluntary abortion would become legal, or remain punishable by law, except in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s health (BBC).
A bill that would grant women in South America’s third most populous country the right to terminate their pregnancies through the fourteenth week of pregnancy was passed in June by the lower house of parliament.
But supporters of the legislation, which is opposed by the Catholic church, were worried that it would not pass the Senate. With lawmakers taking up debate of the bill on August 8, an estimated 1 million demonstrators, mostly women, gathered outside congress to demand its passage (The Guardian).
On June 14, lawmakers in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies voted by a narrow margin to legalize abortion (Reuters). If approved by the Senate and signed by President Mauricio Macri, the law would grant women the right to terminate their pregnancies.
Known as “voluntary interruption of pregnancy” (interrupción voluntaria del embarazo), the bill would legalize abortions through 14 weeks of pregnancy. Currently, Argentinian women can terminate their pregnancies in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life or if the fetus has severe congenital malformations.
The bill was pushed forward by social organizations, particularly the National Campaign for the Right to Abortion (Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito), and left-wing parties that have historically maintained legal abortion as a demand on their political platforms.
Debate in the lower house of the Argentine National Congress was urged by President Mauricio Macri (The Washington Post), in what some have portrayed as an attempt to demonstrate his party’s democratic convictions.
President Macri, who has said he opposes voluntary abortions, “promised that he would not veto the measure if it is adopted.” (The New York Times)
Proponents of the bill have asserted that illegal abortion is a reality in Argentina (Chicago Tribune), and that it’s poor women who suffer the consequences of the policy on penalizing the practice resulting, in many occasions, in the death of abortion-seeking women. The legalization campaign vows to have the country’s public hospitals perform free abortions, under the motto, “Sexual education to decide, contraceptives to prevent abortions, and abortions to prevent death,” or Educación sexual para decidir, antinconceptivos para no abortar, aborto legal para no morir (Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito).
The bill has been the subject of intense debate (CNN). After many public congressional hearings, positions between lawmakers became deeply polarized. Some considered the matter a religious or moral issue – the anti-abortion Roman Catholic Church (Vatican) remains powerful in Argentina. Others have deemed it a matter of public health and denounced pressure and even threats to lawmakers who support the bill.
After a session that started on Wednesday morning, debate over the bill continued for almost 23 continuous hours and ended with a vote at around 10 a.m. The vote appeared to be tied until the session’s conclusion, which resulted with 129 votes for the bill to 125 against (Reuters). Before the final debate began, “more than a dozen lawmakers had said that they were still undecided,” adding drama to the proceedings as various colleagues targeted their arguments at these members (BBC).
In order to become law, the bill now must pass the more conservative Senate, the country’s highest legislative chamber, and be signed by the president. For supporters of the bill, Senate approval remains the biggest hurdle in a debate that has inspired massive public demonstrations on all points of the spectrum.