Ar­gentina abor­tion vote car­ries weight for all Latin Amer­ica.

14th week rule may have rip­ple ef­fects in re­gion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRED­ERIC PUGLIE

BUENOS AIRES | A Wed­nes­day vote on le­gal­iz­ing abor­tions in Ar­gentina, highly an­tic­i­pated be­cause of the rip­ple ef­fects it could cause across Latin Amer­ica, has turned into a nail-biter, with the long-fa­vored anti-abor­tion camp’s lead nar­row­ing in the fi­nal hours.

Fol­low­ing a marathon de­bate amid du­el­ing protest marches, law­mak­ers in the lower house of Congress are ex­pected to vote in the wee hours of the morn­ing on the bill that would al­low all abor­tions un­til the 14th week of preg­nancy.

A Tues­day vote count showed 117 law­mak­ers fa­vor­ing the mea­sure, with 119 op­posed and 19 un­de­cided. If sub­se­quently ap­proved by the Se­nate, Pres­i­dent Mauri­cio Macri, de­spite be­ing an abor­tion op­po­nent, is ex­pected to sign the bill into law.

Wed­nes­day’s vote fol­lows a month­s­long na­tional de­bate that pit­ted pro-life groups backed by the in­flu­en­tial Catholic Church against a women’s rights coali­tion seek­ing to make Ar­gentina the first ma­jor Latin Amer­i­can coun­try to al­low all abor­tions, which would be pro­vided free of charge in pub­lic hos­pi­tals. In na­tion­ally tele­vised com­mit­tee hear­ings, law­mak­ers heard hours of emo­tion­ally charged tes­ti­mony from dozens of wit­nesses af­ter Mr. Macri had opened ses­sions on March 1 with a plea for a “ma­ture” de­bate he said the coun­try owed it­self af­ter decades of kick­ing the can down the road.

Ac­tress and singer Muriel Santa Ana told the panel about a secret abor­tion she had had in the early 1990s.

“I went to the of­fice of a doc­tor known at the time as head of OB-GYN at a very im­por­tant pub­lic hos­pi­tal; he gave me in­struc­tions, and I gave him the money,” the 47-year-old artist re­called. “A week later, I went to the apart­ment [he] used for the surgery . ... The op­er­at­ing room was the kitchen.”

Law­mak­ers, Ms. Santa Ana urged, needed to ac­knowl­edge re­al­ity and pro­tect women’s lives.

“The ques­tion here is secret abor­tion or le­gal abor­tion,” she said. “Abor­tion ex­ists; it ex­isted and will con­tinue to ex­ist, what­ever it is you leg­is­late.”

Other wit­nesses, though, made equally im­pas­sioned pleas against the pro­ce­dure, with 43-year-old en­gi­neer Javier Wal­ter re­count­ing the first time he met his bi­o­log­i­cal grand­mother in a tiny vil­lage in Ar­gentina’s north­ern For­mosa prov­ince.

“All my life I knew I was adopted: My last name is ‘Wal­ter’ — Ger­man — and you’ll no­tice I’m not that Ger­man,” the dark-skinned fa­ther of three joked. “[My grand­mother] told me, ‘I have to ask you for for­give­ness ... be­cause I wanted for you not to be born.’ And the first thing I did [was] to hug her.”

In Ar­gentina, abor­tions to­day are le­gal only in ex­cep­tional cases, such as if the preg­nancy re­sults from rape or if the preg­nant per­son’s health is in danger — a con­ser­va­tive ap­proach the coun­try shares with all of its Latin Amer­i­can neigh­bors ex­cept the smaller na­tions of Uruguay and Guyana.

But if the abor­tion bill moves for­ward, his­tory sug­gests it could well spawn sim­i­lar ef­forts across the re­gion. Af­ter Ar­gentina be­came the re­gion’s first coun­try to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage in 2010, Brazil, Mex­ico, Colom­bia and Uruguay soon fol­lowed suit.

“What hap­pens in Ar­gentina is ab­so­lutely cen­tral to what hap­pens in the en­tire re­gion,” prom­i­nent Brazil­ian pro-choice ac­tivist and Yale Law School vis­it­ing fel­low Deb­ora Diniz told The Washington Times.

And ahead of pub­lic hear­ings on abor­tion sched­uled be­fore Brazil’s supreme court in Au­gust, Ms. Diniz said Ar­gen­tine cities fill­ing up with the green hand­ker­chiefs — the sym­bol adopted by the pro-choice coali­tion — has been “stim­u­lat­ing.”

“We are the re­gion with the world’s most re­stric­tive laws and the high­est rates of abor­tion in the whole world,” she said. “The re­gion demon­strates that crim­i­nal­iza­tion does not re­duce abor­tion rates — just the op­po­site.”

Buenos Aires Arch­bishop Mario Poli has not been shy about lec­tur­ing Mr. Macri that “[Pope] Fran­cis teaches us that the de­fense of the un­born must be clear, firm and pas­sion­ate.” But Church lead­ers have avoided a high-pro­file clash like the one Fran­cis, then still Car­di­nal Jorge Ber­goglio, and leftist Pres­i­dent Cristina Fer­nan­dez fought over same­sex unions.

But ahead of Wed­nes­day’s vote, law­mak­ers in this tra­di­tion­ally Catholic coun­try are still feel­ing the pres­sure from con­stituents, he said, with protest marches sug­gest­ing anti-abor­tion sen­ti­ment is par­tic­u­larly strong in Ar­gentina’s vast in­te­rior, which in turn ac­counts for most of the un­de­cided votes.

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