Argentinian Senate vetoes pro-abortion Bill
Publish date: 13 August 2018
Issue Number: 4521
Diary: Legalbrief Today
In a blow to thousands of women who will be forced to seek illegal terminations, Argentina’s Senate last week voted against a Bill to legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. According to a report in The Independent, after a marathon debate, senators voted 31 in favour to 38 against in what was a victory for the church in the largely Roman Catholic country. The Pope, who hails from Argentina, had made clear his opposition to progressing reproductive rights for women. The lower House of Congress in Buenos Aires had already passed the Bill, with the country’s anti-abortion President Mauricio Macri poised to sign it. Rules that only allow the procedure in cases of rape or risks to a woman’s health will remain in place following the vote. Activists pushing for a change in the law said as many as 3 000 women had died of illegal abortions since 1983. Small groups rallied in other countries across the region to voice support for the Argentine abortion measure, including in Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.
Women’s rights activists have pledged to continue the fight for legal abortion. A report in The Guardian notes that tens of thousands of women took to the streets in a string of protests in favour of legal abortion, and campaigners said Argentina’s newly-empowered women’s movement was determined to keep up the pressure for reform. ‘Things will never be the same because society has been changed by these five months of debating the law,’ said journalist Soledad Vallejos, a member of the #NiUnaMenos collective that began amid protests against gender violence and became a major force behind the proposed law. ‘We won,’ wrote journalist and activist Mariana Carbajal, in an article in Página/12. ‘We won because arguments based on religious beliefs showed how deceitful they are.’ The Senate vote fell along clearly marked lines of age and gender. Male senators voted 24-17 against the Bill, while female senators were evenly divided at 14-14; most senators over 50 years of age voted against the reform. Many activists have expressed hope that legal abortion would become available in 2020 after new congressional elections and fresh presidential elections in 2019. During the debate, a number of senators said change could come even sooner, if the Supreme Court ruled on abortion. Macri's officials have said they would now seek to decriminalise abortion through a reform of the country’s penal code later this month – although the practice would remain illegal and prison sentences would remain in place for doctors preforming abortions.
The failure to legalise abortion has been hailed by the church, and by Pope Francis, the first Argentinian pontiff. A report in The Guardian notes that despite progressive views on many social justice issues, he has remained unyielding on matters relating to women’s control of their bodies. Francis, who was Archbishop of Buenos Aires before being elected pope in 2013, has maintained close links to the country of his birth. According to the Clarín newspaper, he personally requested anti-abortion legislators to lobby their senate colleagues to reject the Bill. Priests and bishops spoke forcefully against abortion from the pulpit. As senators debated the Bill, the church held a ‘mass for life’ at the Buenos Aires Cathedral. Last week, Clarín’s headline was: ‘The church, the key player that managed to stop the law.’ The vote in the Argentina Senate comes less than three months after Ireland, another predominantly Catholic country, voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to legalise abortion in what was widely seen as a blow to the church’s authority. As the church’s authority wanes in western Europe, it remains a powerful influence elsewhere in the world, the report observes.