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Friday, August 31, 2018

Argentina votes on the legalization of abortion amid massive mobilization

Por Rory

The Chamber of Senators of Argentina began to debate on Wednesday a bill to legalize abortion, which has already received a half-sanction from deputies, in the midst of demonstrations in favor and against on the outskirts of Congress. The norm guarantees the possibility of aborting up to week 14 of pregnancy within the public health system for free, something that is currently allowed only in cases of rape and health risk for the pregnant woman. The deputies approved it in June after almost a day of discussion. Outside the legislative palace, two human floods, green (in favor of free and free abortion) and blue (against), waited in wake the result of a vote whose prognosis favors the opponents of legalization.

So far, 38 senators have expressed their intention to vote against the legalization of abortion, including former president Carlos Menem; 31 are in favor, including the former president Cristina Fernández, although in that block some ask for changes; one remains undefined, another will abstain and there will be an absence. If the numbers are confirmed, the vote will be negative and the legal abortion project will be buried for at least one year. The initiative is very similar to that of the more developed countries: free decision of the woman up to 14 weeks of gestation and a longer time if there is risk to the mother, fetus or pregnancy is a consequence of a violation. To save the law, supporters in the Senate accepted modifications to the original bill and presented a new one that reduced free abortion from 14 to 12 weeks and included institutional objection, but did not achieve sufficient consensus. Today they will try again to introduce the changes during the session, which would return the text to the camera of origin, that of the Deputies, for its definitive processing. Regardless of the final result, the debate on the voluntary interruption of pregnancy has caused an earthquake in Argentina, the country of Pope Francis.

It has ceased to be a taboo topic in society to emerge as a crude public health problem: every year almost 50,000 women have to be hospitalized in Argentina for complications arising from abortions. In 2016, the last year with official figures, 43 women died from this cause. The last, Liliana Herrera, died less than a week ago. With 22 years and mother of two children, she lost her life due to a generalized infection after being subjected to a clandestine abortion. The average sanction of the Chamber of Deputies for the legalization of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy was celebrated in the streets of Buenos Aires by tens of thousands of women with green handkerchiefs, hugs and cries of "legal abortion in the hospital". But the tight victory also provoked a counter-offensive by conservative sectors of Argentine society, led by the Catholic Church, the evangelicals and top officials of the Macri government, including key women: the vice president, Gabriela Michetti; the governor of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal; and the deputy Elisa Carrió. The Argentine Episcopal Conference changed its initial moderate tone by an explicit call to mobilize against abortion.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of people called by the evangelical churches asked the senators to reject the law and "save the two lives", that of the mother and that of the fetus. Days before, they also demonstrated in front of the presidential mansion of Olivos. Michetti, who has the role of breaking the tie if necessary, has been against abortion even in cases of rape, a case contemplated in the law since 1921. From the pro-government political forces they have also presented alternative projects to the legalization of the abortion. The most controversial was the provisional head of the Senate, Federico Pinedo, which contemplates that, pregnant women who do not want to be mothers enter a state program that covers all their expenses until they give birth and deliver the newborn child for adoption. The proposal was compared with The Tale of the Maid, the dystopia of Margaret Atwood where fertile women are forced to conceive children for other women. Atwood took the systematic plan of theft of babies from the Argentine dictatorship (1976-1983) as one of the sources of inspiration for her novel and has had an active participation in the current debate. "Force birth if you want, Argentina, but at least call the forced for what it is, slavery," wrote the Canadian novelist in an open letter.

Atwood is just one example of the internationalization of the debate, which coincides with the global rise of feminist demands, but also with the advance of conservative governments in the region. In Latin America, only three countries recognize the right of women to decide the interruption of an unwanted pregnancy in the first weeks of pregnancy: Cuba, Guyana and Uruguay. Argentina has historically been a country at the forefront in expanding rights, as demonstrated again in 2010 with the approval of gay marriage and in 2012 with the gender identity law, and sectors favorable to legal abortion have received significant international support. In cities like Barcelona, ​​Berlin, London, Madrid, Montevideo, New York and Santiago de Chile they have called for demonstrations in support of the law. If the Senate rejects the bill, the issue cannot be dealt with again until 2019, the year in which Argentina holds general elections. In the last electoral campaign, only the left included in its program the legalization of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. Looking ahead, if abortion is maintained as a crime, all candidates must position themselves.