Buenos Aires Times

argentina GREEN V BLUE ON THE STREETS

Congress debates abortion as streets are swamped by demonstrators

Campaigners brush off the rain to flood the streets of the nation's capital, as the crucial Senate debate on abortion reform bill nears end.

Wednesday 8 August, 2018
Activists in favour (right) and against (left) the abortion reform bill gather to demonstrate, close to the national Congress building in Buenos Aires.
Activists in favour (right) and against (left) the abortion reform bill gather to demonstrate, close to the national Congress building in Buenos Aires. Foto:AFP-EITAN ABRAMOVICH

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The streets of the nation's capital were dyed green and light blue today as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in favour of and against the proposed abortion reform bill swarmed the national Congress building.

As senators inside the upper chamber debated the proposed legislation, delivering impassioned speeches calling on their fellow lawmakers to reconsider their positions, demonstrators continued to fill the streets outside, fighting to swing the tide in their favour.

Senators, who were theoretically limited to 10 minutes speaking time per person (though the rule was not always enforced fairly), are expected to vote on a bill that would legalise abortion up until the 14th week of pregnancy in the early hours on the morning, roughly around 2am or 3am. The session began at 10am.

Demonstrators had began arriving near the Congress building as early as Tuesday evening, many dressed in warm clothes, carrying food, umbrellas, mates and thermos flasks, preparing for a long night. After midday Wednesday, numbers began to increase, with another surge witnessed in the afternoon.

Nearly all the protesters – on both sides – were carrying the iconic handkerchiefs that identify both sides and their stances: green for the pro-abortion reform camp that demands free, legal and safe access to abortion for all women, and light blue for the pro-life camp, which seeks, in the words of its slogan, to 'save the two lives.'

Anticipating large crowds, federal and city police officers had erected barricades in front of the Congress building and around the Plaza del Congreso prior to the debate, keeping demonstrators away from the main gates and dividing the camps into two: those in favour on the side of Callao and Rivadavia avenues and beyond, those against on avenues Hipólito Yrigoyen, Entre Ríos and onwards.

"I hope you hear us, I hope the Senate listens to us," said Pilar, a 24-year-old veterinary science student at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), who had headed to the plaza with her friend Celeste, 23, a medical student at the National University of La Plata (UNLP).

Both wore the famous green handkerchief of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal Abortion on their wrists. 

Among the masses stood Alicia Schejter, a longtime abortion campaigner who has been a key part of the struggle for legal abortion since the late 1980s. Surveying her surroundings, she admitted that the strength of the pro-choice campaigning had taken her by surprise.

"We never thought that this would happen," she said. "It is incredible that the younger girls have taken it as their own and have joined to this fight. "

On the other side of the fences, across the plaza, light-blue pro-life campaigners were optimistic. In recent days, the vote has increasingly looked likely to fall in their favour, with a number of senators revealing they would vote against the bill.

"We hope that the project is rejected ... we hope that they will listen to us and that they will see all the people who travelled here from all over the country," said Juliana Sierra, a pro-life campaigner from Salta.

At 6pm, pro-life campaigners held their main event of the day. On a stage, journalist Gastón Recondo called for senators to "save the two lives."

"We ask that the right to live be respected. Life begins from the moment of conception ... we say yes to life, not to abortion," he said.

NGOs and analysts have estimated that as many as 500,000 illegal, clandestine abortions are carried out every year in Argentina. Around 100 people die each year as a result of complications from botched procedures, activists say.

- TIMES/NA

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