Senators in Argentina are in the midst of a marathon debate over a bill to legalise abortion, with the pro-reform camp increasingly confident the measure will pass through the upper house.
As debate stretched into a seventh hour on Tuesday evening, pro-reform campaigners were optimistic that the government-backed bill would receive approval after three of five previously undecided senators – Stella Maris Olalla, Lucía Crexell and Sergio Leavy – indicated they would back the proposal in speeches to the upper house.
If the trio choose to support the bill when the voting time arrives (estimated to be around 4am or 5am), the initiative should win approval. According to live counts tallied by multiple local outlets, their backing takes the ‘green’ pro-abortion vote to 36 of 72 senators, with 32 in the ‘blue’ anti-reform camp. Influential local daily La Nación put the count at 37 to 32.
Two senators will not cast votes: former president Carlos Menem (PJ, La Rioja), who is hospitalised, and José Alperovich (Frente de Todos-Tucumán), who is on leave following allegations of sexual abuse.
The first of the trio to clarify their position during Tuesday’s debate was Senator Stella Maris Olalla (UCR-Entre Ríos), who had given little away prior to the session.
"It is a question of rights. The State must choose the continuity of a pregnancy or not according to the autonomy of a woman's will. Maintaining the prohibition [on abortion] will not eliminate the clandestine system that exists," she said, before announcing she would vote in favour.
Minutes before 10pm, Neuquén Senator Lucila Crexell (Movimiento Neuquino Partido) also said she was inclined to back the bill.
"I am not indifferent to the drama of clandestine abortion that criminalises woman in vulnerable situations,” she said, while underlining that she was personally against abortion.
“I believe this law doesn’t change anything for those who oppose it, but [it does] for those who do not have it. Denying the reality of so many abortions that exist in the country is a great act of hypocrisy," she added.
Roughly an hour later, a third undecided senator, Salta’s Sergio ‘Oso’ Leavy (Frente de Todos), said he would back the bill, news that prompted cheers from demonstrators on the streets outside.
“Personally, I am opposed, I hate abortion. Clearly, we Argentines are opposed, but it [clandestine abortion] exists,” said the government-aligned senator, who two years ago voted against a bill to legalise the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.
“In 2018 I participated in the debate, [but] it was a different law. This law is improved. I have realised that it is not about me, my beliefs or my training – it is a situation that concerns many women,” he said, indicating that the government’s ‘1,000 Days’ bill to provide support for vulnerable women and their children in the first three years of life had helped sway him.
“I have tried to understand women who decide to have an abortion and I have realised that this law does not oblige them to have an abortion, it only gives them a legal and safe framework," he said, showing his support.
Two other senators remain undecided and both have yet to speak in the debate, though some local outlets were reporting Tuesday night that both would back the bill. Edgardo Kueider (Frente de Todos) will not address the chamber, preferring to reveal his decision only at the time of voting. Oscar Castillo (Frente Cívico y Social de Catamarca), the remaining standout, will speak later in the evening.
Despite the optimism, the vote is still expected to be tense. The debate has cut across party lines, with senators following their conscience. Some in the ruling coalition have indicated they will reject the initiative – Catamarca Senator Inés Blas (Frente de Todos) said Tuesday that she would not vote against.
"The interruption of a pregnancy is a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life," she told the chamber.
However, Senator Silvina García Larraburu (Río Negro), again from the ruling coalition, said she would vote for the bill this time despite voting against in 2018.
"My vote is a deconstructed vote, my vote is positive," she declared early in the session.
Pro-reform campaigners hope the marathon session, which started with great optimism, will end in celebration.
"Today is a day of hope, we're debating a project that will avoid more unjust deaths," said Senator Norma Durango (Frente de Todos-La Pampa) as debate got underway.