Social Issues

Argentine abortion bill clears 1st legislative hurdle

By Rodrigo Garcia Melero

Buenos Aires, Dec 11 (efe-epa).- An abortion bill introduced by Argentine President Alberto Fernandez’s administration cleared an initial legislative hurdle early Friday, although it now faces a more daunting obstacle in the more conservative Senate.

A total of 131 lower-house lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, which would allow the voluntary termination of pregnancies until the 14th week of gestation, while 117 legislators opposed the bill and six abstained.

Under current law, abortions can only be legally performed in cases of rape or risk to a woman’s life or health.

The 20 hours of uninterrupted legislative debate and demonstrations by supporters of the bill (the green wave) and opponents (who wear the light blue of the Argentine flag) outside the congressional building in Buenos Aires laid bare the passions this issue stirs within the political class and society as a whole.

As far as the vote, it was clear from the outset that proponents of expanded abortion rights would win the day in the lower house, just as they did in 2018.

The margin of victory was smaller (129-123) on that occasion, which marked the first time the abortion bill was debated after a years-long campaign by feminist groups. The measure was not introduced in 2018 by the executive branch, then headed by conservative President Mauricio Macri, but instead was drafted by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion.

“We’re closer today to voluntary abortion becoming law, to a country where women, girls and others who can become pregnant can truly exercise their rights fully and make decisions about their own bodies and their own life projects,” that platform said Friday.

But Unidad Pro-Vida, a pro-life coalition comprising more than 150 organizations, said that the bill only passed by a slim, 14-vote margin even though a lot of pressure was brought to bear on lawmakers.

“We knew it would be a very difficult vote in the (Chamber of) Deputies: the president of the Chamber was in favor, the executive branch exerted pressure with the ministers, the four committee presidents also were greens,” Santiago Santurio, a spokesman for the coalition, told Efe.

The bill now goes to the Senate, many of whose members represent conservative provinces. Proponents of the bill will have an uphill climb, although they are expecting a closer battle than in 2018, when they only managed 31 of 72 possible votes.

The debate in the Senate could take place before year’s end.

If the bill becomes law this time around, free, safe and legal abortions will be allowed during the first 14 weeks of gestation and must be performed by medical workers within 10 days of a woman’s request to terminate the pregnancy.

Girls under 13 would be able to undergo the procedure if they provide their informed consent and have the support of at least one of their parents or a legal representative.

The bill would allow health professionals to conscientiously opt out of performing an abortion, although in those cases they must steer the patient to another professional without delay.

Fernandez pledged to promote a bill to expand abortion rights during his successful run to the presidency in 2019, saying his primary motivation was to reduce the number of clandestine abortions, many of which are performed unsafely and put the woman’s life at risk.

Along those lines, Cecilia Moreau, a lawmaker with the ruling center-left Frente de Todos coalition, said the abortion issue in Argentina is “fundamentally a public health problem.”

But Carmen Polledo of the center-right Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition lamented that the abortion issue is being debated as opposed to solving “all of the urgent and dramatic problems” facing the country, which has been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic and has been in recession since 2018.

She said it was unfortunate that the government was making it a priority to “offer abortion legalization to feminist groups.”

In a bid to increase support for the measure, the bill also includes a provision for 1,000 days of assistance to mothers of newborn children to help combat malnutrition, prevent violence and promote the emotional and physical development of mothers and their children (up to the age of three).

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