Ar­gentina se­nate re­jects bill to le­galise abor­tion

The Guardian Australia - - Politics / World News - Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires

Ar­gentina’s se­nate has re­jected a bill to le­galise abor­tion in the first 14 weeks of preg­nancy.

Law­mak­ers de­bated for more than 15 hours and voted 38 against to 31 in favour, de­spite the fact opin­ion polls showed the bill had strong pub­lic sup­port.

Pres­sure from the Catholic church pre­vented its ap­proval, ac­cord­ing to fe­male ac­tivists who sup­ported the bill. Ar­gentina is the home­land of Pope Fran­cis.

“The church put pres­sure on sen­a­tors to vote against the bill,” said Ana Cor­rea, an orig­i­nal mem­ber of the #NiU­naMenos (“Not one woman less”) fem­i­nist move­ment that sup­ported the bill.

The lower house had al­ready passed the mea­sure and Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri had said he would sign it.

Re­jec­tion of the bill means that abor­tion re­mains le­gal only in the case of rape and dan­ger to the life of the woman.

Mariela Bel­ski, Ar­gentina’s Amnesty In­ter­na­tional direc­tor, said a sur­vey had shown 60% sup­port for the bill, and de­scribed its fail­ure as “an un­for­giv­able step back­wards”.

“Law­mak­ers chose to­day to turn their backs on hun­dreds of thou­sands of women and girls who have been fight­ing for their sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive rights,” Bel­ski said. “All that this de­ci­sion does is per­pet­u­ate the cir­cle of vi­o­lence which women, girls and oth­ers who can be­come preg­nant are forced into.”

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, mostly women, braved a cold and rainy night to stand vigil out­side the congress build­ing on Wed­nes­day while the votes were counted in­side. De­spite the fi­nal re­sult of the vote, many women said they be­lieved Ar­gentina would have le­gal abor­tion even­tu­ally.

“I’m still op­ti­mistic. It didn’t pass to­day, but it will pass to­mor­row, it will pass the next day,” said Na­talia Carol, a 23-year-old abor­tion rights sup­porter. “This is not over.”

The jour­nal­ist Silv­ina Márquez, who joined the crowd out­side the congress build­ing early in the af­ter­noon, said: “We might not have a law to­day, but it is go­ing to hap­pen. Ar­gentina is not go­ing back to this, it is im­por­tant for the women, es­pe­cially for the young women. So sooner or later we’ll have an abor­tion law.”

“What this vote showed is that Ar­gentina is still a coun­try that rep­re­sents fam­ily val­ues,” the anti-abor­tion ac­tivist Vic­to­ria Osuna, 32, told Reuters.

A nearby group of secondary school stu­dents, mega­phone in hand, chanted: “Be­ware, be­ware, machis­tas [chau-

vin­ists] be­ware, all Latin Amer­ica will be fem­i­nist.”

The pope, who re­mains deeply in­volved in the pol­i­tics of his home coun­try, has made no se­cret of his op­po­si­tion to the bill. On Mon­day, the Clarín daily news­pa­per re­ported that Fran­cis had asked anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tors to pres­sure fel­low law­mak­ers to re­ject the bill.

De­spite a re­cent sur­vey that showed 71% of Ar­gen­tini­ans op­posed po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence by the church, lead­ing Catholic au­thor­i­ties have spo­ken out re­cently against the bill. “This would be the first time a law is passed in demo­cratic Ar­gentina per­mit­ting the elim­i­na­tion of a hu­man be­ing by an­other hu­man,” Mon­signor Ós­car Ojea, pres­i­dent of Ar­gentina’s synod of bish­ops, said in a homily at the Basil­ica of Our Lady of Lu­ján, one of Ar­gentina’s lead­ing pil­grim­age sites, last month.

In a pointed sig­nal, Bishop Ojea and

and Car­di­nal Mario Poli – who suc-

ceeded Jorge Ber­goglio as arch­bishop

of Buenos Aires af­ter Ber­goglio be­came pope – held a mass on Wed­nes­day at 8pm at Buenos Aires Cathe­dral while the sen­a­tors de­bated the bill.

Al­though the law as it stands also per­mits abor­tion when there is risk to the woman’s health, few of Ar­gentina’s 23 prov­inces have im­ple­mented this third in­stance.

In the city of Rosario, in the prov­ince of Santa Fe, where this op­tion has been avail­able since 2012, deaths as a re­sult of com­pli­ca­tions from clan­des­tine abor­tions have fallen to zero. Com­pli­ca­tions re­lated to clan­des­tine abor­tions are the main cause of death among preg­nant women in Ar­gentina.

“Sen­a­tors and anti-rights can go to sleep pleased that they saved the livesof peo­ple who lit­er­ally speak­ing do not ex­ist and pleased that they fought­for women to keep dy­ing,” tweeted Malena Pi­chot, a well-known co­me­dian and le­gal abor­tion ac­tivist.

Pho­to­graph: David Fer­nan­dez/EPA

Pro-choice pro­test­ers in Buenos Aires.

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