Argentina to become largest country in Latin America to legalize elective abortion
Argentine lawmakers voted early Wednesday to legalize elective abortion, a key step in making the predominantly Roman Catholic country the largest in Latin America to allow the procedure.
The legislation championed by President Alberto Fernández was approved by Argentina’s House of Deputies earlier this month. Fernández is now expected to sign it.
Elective abortion is legal in Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and parts of Mexico. In Argentina, as in much of the region, the procedure has been permitted only in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Argentina just got closer to becoming the largest country in Latin America to legalize abortion
The legislation would allow elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It’s the ninth bill in the past 15 years to address the country’s abortion laws; it was seen as having the best chance to legalize the procedure.
A 2018 proposal passed the House but failed in the Senate. Then-President Mauricio Macri, a conservative, said he opposed abortion but would sign the legislation if it prevailed
This time, the country has a new leader — and he’s spearheading the effort. Fernández, who defeated Macri last year, made legalization a key campaign promise. He described it as a matter of public health.
“The debate is not saying yes or no to abortion,” he said in November. “The dilemma that we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system.”
The bill had drawn opposition from another prominent Argentine.
Pope Francis described abortion as a question of “human ethics.”
“Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?” he asked in a letter to supporters made public last month.
The bill was approved in the Senate with 38 votes in favor and 29 against after an intense debate that lasted around 12 hours. Some lawmakers discussed why they had changed their views since 2018. “I learned a lot in these two years. I am the same senator, who at this time decided to continue listening and analyzing different situations,” said Silvina García Larraburu, who voted against the bill in 2018, but supported it this time.
“Mine is a deconstructed vote.”
Silvia Elías de Pérez, a senator who has spoken openly against abortion, said the president was “personally pressuring senators” to pass the bill.
“If the bill becomes law, we will go to court to have it declared unconstitutional,” she said to the press.
The vote has deepened long-standing divisions in a country with both a huge Catholic presence and a burgeoning feminist movement.
Viviana Canosa, a journalist and antiabortion activist, joined fellow opponents in the streets on Monday, the Catholic Feast of the Holy Innocents, to oppose the legislation.
“We hope the senators will vote with their hearts, with conviction, and in favor of the motherland,” she said in a video shared on her Twitter account.
Other religious believers had a different perspective.
“Jesus would never have condemned a woman for getting an abortion. For terminating a pregnancy,” Marta Alanis, founder of Catholics for the Right to Decide, told The Washington Post. “He was always against condemning women.”
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Feminist groups said the legislation was about safety and equality
“Senators should never play politics with the lives of women and girls in Argentina,” Paula Ávila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center, said in a statement. “It’s no secret that our backwards and outdated abortion laws are not deterrents, in fact they exacerbate the problem by leading to unsafe clandestine abortions that threaten the health and lives of the most vulnerable women and girls.”
Health Minister Ginés González García said in November that more than 3,000 women have died in Argentina since the early 1980s as a result of underground abortions.
Activists on both sides demonstrated in cities across the country ahead of the vote Tuesday.
Even with the bill’s passage, Alanis said, opponents “will make every effort to prevent” women from getting abortions.
“A woman deciding to get an abortion is the thing conservatives can’t tolerate.”
Ruby Mellen and Ana Vanessa Herrero