Argentina lawmakers pass abortion bill amid pressure from activists

Argentina flag Credit Henner Damke Shutterstock CNA Henner Damke/Shutterstock.

The lower house of Argentina’s legislature has passed a bill that would legalize abortion-on-demand up to 14 weeks in pregnancy, drawing dismay from pro-life groups and Catholics in the country.

The bill, passed Dec. 11, would permit abortions up to 14 weeks of gestation for any reason. The bill now proceeds to the upper house, the Senate, where it is expected to face greater opposition.

Fulfilling a presidential campaign promise, Argentine president Alberto Fernández introduced the bill to legalize abortion into the country’s legislature Nov. 17. Fernández took office a year ago and has made abortion legalization a focal point of his tenure as president.

Following a 20-hour debate, the country’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, passed the measure 131-117, with six abstentions.

Existing Argentine law allows abortion in cases when the mother's life or health is in danger, or in cases of rape. Cuba and Uruguay are the only other countries in Latin America that have broadly legalized abortion.

This is the second time in two years that the Argentine Chamber of Deputies has passed a liberalizing abortion law. During April 2018, under the administration of Argentina’s previous president, the Senate rejected a similar bill.

On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the bishops of Argentina raised prayers “for the care of the unborn life” and asked legislators to protect life from conception, and to not approve the abortion law.

Pro-life demonstrations against the bill took place in more than 500 cities across Argentina Nov. 28.

Unidad Provida, a pro-life organization, on Friday urged senators to “correct this violation of human rights and thus honor the will popular” of the Argentine majority that defends the lives of both the mother and the unborn child.

Camila Duro of the Argentine Pro-Life Unity organization explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, that the demonstrations took place because the Fernández administration “wants to fast-track the legalization of abortion, turning its back on the majority of the Argentine people, and so we want to express our disgust with that move.”

Dr. María José Mancino, president of Doctors for Life Argentina, told ACI Prensa that contrary to what those who support the proposed law say, “abortion is not a health problem or a priority problem in Argentina. There are many other problems that are not being considered.”

Pope Francis on Nov. 25 wrote a note to women in his homeland who asked him to help make known their opposition to the bill, saying, “I admire their work and their testimony; that I thank them from the bottom of my heart for what they do, and that they keep going.”

Fernández said Nov. 22 that he hoped Pope Francis would not be angry because of his introduction of the bill to legalize abortion. Speaking to the Argentine television program Corea del Centro, Fernández, a Catholic, argued that he had to introduce the bill to solve “a public health problem in Argentina.”

The president’s reference to a public health crisis seemed to refer to unsubstantiated claims from abortion advocates in the country, who claim that women in Argentina die frequently from so-called “clandestine” or unsafe illegal abortions in the country.

In a Nov. 12 interview, Bishop Alberto Bochatey, who heads the Argentine bishops’ conference healthcare ministry, challenged those assertions, stating that abortion deaths have fallen by 62%, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

María José Mancino, a psychiatrist and president and founder of Doctors for Life, has said that the bill does not contain adequate conscience protections for doctors who do not wish to perform or refer for abortions.

The bill also includes a provision mandating “comprehensive sexual education.” Educators in the province of Córdoba have objected, saying that the provision would pressure teachers to impose an abortive mindset on students, while ignoring the right of parents to decide on the education of their children.

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According to the New York Times, Fernández has asked his team to avoid scheduling meetings that include only straight men, and has since August mandated that any audience of more than four people with the president should be made up of at least one-third women or self-identified members of the LGBT community.

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