Argentina's Senate Rejects Proposed Bill to Legalize Abortion

04 Sep 2018
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In June 2018, the lower house of congress approved a bill, allowing women to terminate pregnancy amid the first 14 weeks. Throughout the past years, there have been as many as 7 attempts to introduce a voluntary abortion legislation but this was the first bill to be debated in parliament.

A few months before the voting, hundreds of doctors in Argentina, staged anti-abortion protests, while feminists and women’s rights groups, led even larger demonstrations, in support of the measure. Opposition Senator Pedro Guastacino admitted being initially against the proposal but changed his mind later on, after coming to understand, that illegal abortions put lives at risk: “the only way to understand this, is through the point of view of public health” he said. Although, he himself was anti-abortion, His Excellency Mr. Mauricio Macri, the current President of Argentina, also insisted on holding the vote.

Ever since the congress passed the bill, religious groups have stepped up their game to prevent more change.

For the bill’s advocates, legalizing abortion was an urgent public health matter, for tens of thousands of women were hospitalized every year, making abortion the leading cause of maternity death, in Argentina: between 350,000 and 500,000 unlicensed abortions were performed, in a population of 44 million people and an additional 45,000 to 60,000 women, most of them poor, have gotten hospitalized, due to complications linked to the process.

According to the Ministry of Health (MoH)’s data and statistics, as many as 3030 women have died of illegal abortions, since 1983 – nearly 250 maternal deaths occurred in 2016, out of which 43 were due to unsafe abortion.

However, with the Senate leaning towards a more conservative approach, the debate and voting that lasted over 15 hours, ended with 38 Senators voting against, 2 abstained and 31 in favor of legalizing abortion; Argentina’s Senate rejected the bill which endorsed the legalization of elective abortion, in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Hence, abortion remained illegal, except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk.

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After the completion of the vote, President Macri deemed the debate unfinished; he expressed the government’s duty to include a measure in the penal code, that would decriminalize abortion, for presently, if women need abortion in Argentina, there are many unjust legal complexities that compel women, to apply for permission from a judge, who can either grant or deny it. There is often no guidance for judges or abortion providers, particularly in rural districts, about what they are legally obligated to do; it leaves the approval of abortions completely up to chance, depending on where the woman lives, which adds unnecessary burden on the women, particularly poor women, and delays time-sensitive procedures. Nevertheless, regardless of the president’s apparent good will, no steps have been asserted to legalize its practice.

Euromed Feminist Initiative expresses its full solidarity with women’s rights, civil society and human rights organizations and movements in Argentina who have worked hard for years to expand abortion rights. Euromed Feminist Initiative advocates for all women to have complete self-determination over themselves and their bodies, considering it is one of their fundamental and legitimate human right, to have personal autonomy and the right to private life; one simply cannot exist without the other.  Women’s rights are universal human rights and should not be compromised for any reason, whether culture, tradition, religion, identity, specificity, or other.

Argentina’s campaign was credited with inspiring debate on a variety of women’s issues e.g. domestic violence, in a socially conservative region where such subjects have long been taboo. The Euromed Feminist Initiative is undeniably certain that women should have the right to exert total authority over their sexual and reproductive health and life. That being said, when the senate overthrew the Argentine abortion bill, the sour defeat of the grass-root movement pushed reproductive rights to the top of the country’s legislative agenda, where it should be. Furthermore, feminists and women’s rights groups have already started planning on the means for bringing political pressure on House and Senate members, for the 2019 legislative session.