BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Argentinian women’s groups’ decades-long fight for legal abortion was decided by the Senate in a debate on Tuesday that could change the outlook for the proceedings across a continent where it is still largely illegal.
The bill, which would legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy, has already been approved by Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies and had the support of President Alberto Fernández, meaning the Senate vote would be his last obstacle in the homeland of Pope Francis.
A previous abortion bill was rejected by lawmakers in 2018, but this time it was backed by the center-left government. Seventy senators, more than half of whom were men, were due to vote on the measure after a debate that could extend into the early hours of Wednesday. The result was considered uncertain.
“The vote is equal,” said Senator Nancy González, a supporter of the bill. “It’s vote by vote. We’re still working on the undecided.”
In front of the Senate in Buenos Aires, pro and anti-abortion activists gathered, supporters of the bill wearing the color green that represents their pro-abortion movement.
Argentina’s feminist movement has been calling for legal abortion for more than 30 years, and activists say approval of the bill could mark a turning point in Latin America, where the influence of the Roman Catholic Church has long dominated. Abortion remains largely illegal in the region, except in Uruguay, Cuba, Mexico City, the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the West Indies and French Guiana.
“Our country is a country of many contradictions,” said Ester Albarello, a psychiatrist with a network of medical professionals who supports Bill, who was among the protesters outside the Congress building. “He is the only one in the world to have brought to justice the members of his genocidal military dictatorship with all the guarantees. But we still don’t have a legal abortion. Why? Because the Church is with the State. “
Hours before the start of the historic session, the Pope again commented on abortion.
“The Son of God was born an outcast, to tell us that every outcast is a child of God,” the pontiff said on his Twitter account. “He came into the world the moment every child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.
The legislative debate was chaired by Vice-President Cristina Fernández, who was president in 2007-2015 and would only vote in the event of a tie between the senators.
Supporters said the bill aims to eradicate clandestine abortions that have caused more than 3,000 deaths in the country since 1983, according to figures from authorities.
The uncertainty surrounding the vote was in part due to the fact that political parties, including the ruling Peronist movement, gave their lawmakers the freedom to vote as they pleased. Two of the 72 senators were absent and 43 of the other senators were men.
Argentina currently penalizes women and those who assist them with abortions. The only exceptions are cases of rape or risk to the health of the mother, and activists complain that even these exceptions are not respected in some provinces.
Also gathered outside the legislature, a group that calls its members “defenders of two lives” has set up an altar with a crucifix under a blue tent. Dressed in a white lab coat and light blue mask, teacher Adriana Broni said that even if the abortion law were approved, “I will not teach that it is a right to kill, to kill. murder, a baby who has no voice. “
In addition to allowing abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, the law would also establish that even after this period, a pregnancy could be legally terminated if it was the result of rape or if the person’s entire life or health was compromised. in danger.
This would allow health professionals and private medical institutions to conscientiously refuse to participate in an abortion, in which all doctors are against the procedure. But they would be required to refer the woman to another medical center. Conscientious objection cannot be invoked if the life or health of a pregnant woman is in danger.
AP journalist Yesica Brumec contributed to this report.