Lawmaker Sergio Wisky (PRO, Río Negro province) has been one of the most vocal advocates within the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition for the decriminalisation of abortion.
Wisky, who is also a medical doctor, spoke to the Times about the June 13 vote to legalise elective abortion without judicial authorisation in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
How do you assess the ongoing process in Congress, of presentations by members of civil society either for or against the decriminalisation of abortion?
These presentations have reaffirmed arguments for and against abortion, generally. It has been hard for some people who are against abortion to understand that Argentina already decriminalised a number of grounds for abortion over 100 years ago; they are arguing that even on these grounds abortion should be illegal. In any case, the exposition process has enriched the debate.
How do you explain President Mauricio Macri’s support for the debate process and a vote in Congress, given that he is neither in favour of the decriminalisation of abortion nor is he known, generally, to respond to popular social demands like this one?
Fundamentally, his decision has to do with the phenomenon of gender equality. The national government has put in place a plan to move Argentina forward in this respect.
We are witnessing an historic process in Argentina and it is important that we accompany it with public policy. The opening up of a debate [about abortion] is part of attempts to make progress toward greater autonomy and protection of women.
How has the debate process affected Cambiemos internally, given the staunchly opposed majority positions within your coalition on this issue?
It has been an interesting process, one which has also played out in other coalitions.
We have established dialogue with lawmakers from other parties to form coalitions for this bill. This has been a novelty inside Congress as much as it has been for our coalition. We enjoy the freedom to hold positions that do not necessarily align with the president’s or his government colleagues’.
What does this say about the Cambiemos coalition in a political, operational sense compared to other parties?
Argentina has a tradition of verticalism in politics. On this issue and others, Cambiemos has shown that other forms of politics are possible in Argentina. We have many conservative voices within our coalition and, notwithstanding, a debate on abortion is taking place.
On what grounds do you support the decriminalisation of abortion?
Basically because of my profession, because this is a public health issue and because it has proven to be effective in other countries. My political position has to do with the protection of the rights of women. We have to advance toward greater social protection for women and to give them the right to choose. I am a liberal and I defend my liberalism tooth and nail. Beyond this, there are technical public health issues which affect women. Without legal abortion, what happens is poor women put their bodies and health at risk.
What types of medical risks are you talking about?
Firstly, it is important to note that for some time now that misoprostol [a medication commonly used to cause an abortion] has been used properly in Argentina and this has reduced invasive and riskier practices of abortion. Argentina also has a legal precedent in the [Supreme Court’s] F.A.L. ruling that obliges the Health Ministry to apply a protocol for legalised abortions in four instances: rape, the risk to a woman’s life, the risk to a woman’s health, and pregnancies among women who are cognitively impaired.
Still, there are barriers put up against women including the exposure of rape victims to situations where the Judiciary is the only institution which should make determinations.
There are currently eight provinces that practice the interruption of pregnancies — Río Negro being one of them — where there is an integral approach to women’s health including a mentalhealth component. This is already happening in Argentina and some provinces have made progress. The bill we have put forward will offer doctors the right to opt out of abortions on the grounds of their individual beliefs.
Do you have the numbers in Congress to decriminalise abortion? Are you still working on convincing undecided lawmakers?
Yes, there are still some who remain undecided. I am confident that the bill will pass the Lower House but I think it will be harder in the Senate. Still, if it were to pass the Lower House, what we would see is a change in the social and political tone surrounding abortion and I think there will be greater pressure on the Senate to pass it.