Argentina’s Senate is debating a historic bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize abortion for the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
In June, Argentina’s lower legislative house, the Chamber of Deputies, voted through the measure, but reproductive advocates are worried the more conservative Senate will not approve it. Supporters and opponents of the proposal protested outside Congress Wednesday, as debate was underway.
Senator Beatriz Mirkin gave remarks during the session supporting the bill and said, “The slogan of ‘Save the two lives’ is to leave everything the same, in the underground.” She added, “The law does not force any woman to abort. In any case what it does is oblige the state to act so that there are no more clandestine abortions.”
Senator Ana Almiron, said, “Today the girls ask us to ratify what they have already won in the streets: the possibility of choosing.”
Senator Humberto Schiavoni, said that regardless of whether people approve of it or not, abortions, people will have them.
“We like it or don’t like it, abortions are done. The criminalization of abortion has failed,” he said.
Several senators have already said they will vote against decriminalization of abortion.
Argentina has exceptions for abortions in the case of rape or when a pregnant person’s health is at risk. Still, it’s difficult to obtain an abortion even if a person meets those exceptions. According to an Argentinian government report on health statistics, 135 women are hospitalized each day from illegal abortions and 43 women have died each year. People who get abortions face one to four years of prison time. The majority of Argentinians don’t actually support this punishment.
Catholics for the Right to Decide Argentina, the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion, and various groups participating in what is called the Ni Una Menos movement, a feminist movement gaining attention in some Latin American countries, have bolstered the campaign for abortion decriminalization in Argentina, Vox explained.
Activists and journalists say there is momentum for greater reproductive rights, regardless of whether senators vote in favor of the bill. President Mauricio Macri promised not to veto the bill and encouraged debate on it, although he personally opposes abortion. A couple weeks ago, protesters dressed as characters from the television show based on the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are systematically raped and forced to bear children. They went to Buenos Aires to gather outside the National Congress with their heads bowed and held green scarves typically worn by advocates for abortion access. On Wednesday, demonstrators gathered in the city again, with both supporters of the bill and its opposition showing up for their cause.
As Argentina’s Senate starts debating the abortion bill, thousands start to arrive outside. On the left of this picture, those against legalisation. On the right, those in favour. #abortolegal #buenosaires #argentina pic.twitter.com/yTLIjRWtNn
— Katy Watson (@katywatson) August 8, 2018
— 💚Ana Correa💚 (@anaecorrea) August 8, 2018
Powerful Catholic leaders have weighed in. Bishop Oscar Ojea opposed the bill and said, “Abortion is not a right but a tragedy” before the June lower house vote. Although Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, did not weigh in on this particular vote, he has compared abortion to Nazi eugenics. Hundreds of doctors protested against the bill and laid white medical coats outside the presidential palace, according to the Associated Press.
People advocating for the decriminalization of abortion spoke to Deutsche Welle. Laura Moses, a law student, told DW, “Where there is a reality, the government has to respond, and religious beliefs cannot interfere with public policy.”
Claudia Pineiro, a writer, told the news outlet, “Even if the bill is not approved now, we have won this cultural battle. We have already legalized abortion socially.”
Argentinian journalist Mariana Carbajal tweeted that “the green wave is unstoppable” and “We’ve opened consciences. And there’s no turning back.”
This vote is particularly important in the larger context of reproductive rights in Latin America, where six countries have a complete ban on abortion and most countries only allow people to get abortions with exceptions such as fatal fetal abnormalities, rape, and risk to their health. Research shows that more than 97 percent of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean are located in countries where abortion laws are restrictive and 10 percent of all maternal deaths in these regions in 2014 happened due to unsafe abortions.
Brazil is also considering decriminalization through the 12th week of pregnancy through its supreme court. In June, hundreds of activists marched in Rio De Janeiro to advocate for decriminalization. One of their banners read, “rich abort but the poor die.” Brazil’s National Health System estimates that every year, 200 hundred Brazilian women die from unsafe abortions and 250,000 women are hospitalized. Argentina and Brazil do not provide official statistics on gender minorities seeking abortion.