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Argentine Senate Rejects Abortion Legalization, Activists Call It a “Major Setback”

Photo of abortion protest in Argentina.
Obtained from New York Times Video "Understanding Argentina’s Abortion Debate: Both Sides of the Issue | Dispatches."

After a 15-hour debate last Thursday, the Argentine Senate voted to reject a draft bill that would have legalized abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. 

38 Senate members rejected the bill, 31 supported it, two abstained, and one was an absentee.

Opposing Ends

Both pro-life and pro-choice groups gathered outside of the parliament building, waiting for the voting result. Doctors opposing abortion were seen carrying banners that wrote “I am a doctor, not a murderer.” After the announcement was made, there was hysterical screaming from both sides before a clash erupted, which was ended abruptly.

Pro-life groups welcomed the verdict, saying that it reflected Argentina’s focus on the importance of family value.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri also welcomed the decision, stating: “We’ve shown that we have matured as a society, and that we can debate with the depth and seriousness that all Argentines expected…and democracy won.”

Despite personally opposing abortion, the president said that he still would have signed the bill if parliament had approved it.

The vote was a “major setback”

Pro-choice groups cried and consoled each other with the announcement of the voting result, stating that the parliament’s rejection of the bill would neither reduce unwanted pregnancies nor eliminate the existence of abortion, as more than 3,000 Argentinian women have died over the past 25 years due to unsafe termination.

Pro-abortion groups added that the latest data includes cases of 43 women who died last year due to illegal abortion.

In Argentina, abortion is allowed only for rape victims or if a mother’s health is at risk. The fight for legalizing abortion in Argentina started in 2015 when a pregnant 14-year-old was murdered by her teenage boyfriend, who did not want to have the baby.

Only Mexico, Guyana, Cuba and Uruguay which have legalized abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for reasons outside of rape, health risk and incest.

Down, But Not Out

Pro-choice groups and politicians who support the draft have vowed to continue the struggle to push the legalization of abortion.

The verdict does not mark the end of the fight, but is still nonetheless a disappointment on a long timeline of waiting for progress forward.

“Women have never had their rights given to them. The fight will continue,” said Senator María Magdalena Odarda, who supported the bill.

Despite the voting result, the fight for legalizing abortion has changed the way that a lot of Argentinian women see the issue. The most recent poll showed that 71 percent of Argentinians rejected political interference by the church. Additionally, women in neighboring countries such as in Brazil and Peru showed optimism that abortion would be legalized soon.

“The women’s movement mobilized all regions of Argentina; it was intergenerational and exceeded everybody’s expectations. The new generation of teenage girls who came out in such numbers will not be stopped,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, which supports the unconditional legalization of abortion.

Abortion Law in Latin American Nations

In regions with strong influence from the Roman Catholic Church, including Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and El Salvador, abortion is still illegal under all circumstances.

In El Salvador, a woman who had to terminate pregnancy due to miscarriage was even sent to jail for 15 years before being released earlier this year.

However, some Latin American nations have softened their stance on the abortion ban.

Chile has legalized abortion in “exceptional” circumstances, for example, if a mother’s health is at risk, if the pregnancy can harm the fetus, or in the case of rape. If a rape has occurred, women are only allowed to have an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Despite the progress, Chile did apply a complete ban on abortion during the Augusto Pinochet regime.

In Brazil, there is a similar law that only allows abortion under three circumstances: if the mother’s health is in danger, if the fetus’ brain no longer functions, or if the mother is a rape victim.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data as compiled by Reuters, more than 900 women died from unsafe abortions in the Latin American and the Caribbean nations in 2014, with most of those women being poor and living in rural areas.

As the world moves into a more secular method of thought, is it time for nations to recognize the matter of abortion as a women’s health and women’s rights issue rather than one of moral or religious implications? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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