Friday, July 19, 2024

ARGENTINA | 12-12-2020 08:37

Bill to legalise abortion heads to Senate with outcome uncertain

Lower house approves measure after marathon session; Senators will be asked to vote on initiative on Tuesday, December 29.

The Senate will vote on whether to legalise elective abortion in Argentina in a session opening on Tuesday, December 29.

In the wake of Friday’s morning momentous vote in the Chamber of Deputies – in which lower house lawmakers voted to approve a bill to legalise the procedure in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy (131 votes in favour, 117 against and six abstentions) – attention has now turned to the upper house, where the initiative will be debated before the end of the year.

The Senate is expected to begin discussing the abortion bill in committee stage this Monday, with discussion anticipated to last until Wednesday, with an opinion issued by Thursday. After that, the bill

Its outcome remains uncertain. Current estimates seem to indicate that 35 of the upper chamber’s 72 senators are opposed to the bill, with 33 in favour, with the rest undecided, although a survey by the La Nación newspaper Friday said approval was favoured by a minimal majority (36-35, one undecided).

Back in 2018 the initiative foundered by just two votes (35-33, similar to the current situation), following passage in the lower house. In the event of a tie this time around, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who heads the Senate, would have the casting vote. She voted in favour of a bill to legalise the procedure in 2018.

"We want this law to be passed this year," said Senator Norma Durango (Peronist-La Pampa), who chairs the Women’s Committee. “That’s what the president has asked of us.”

Durango further anticipated that the reform, which will enter the Senate on Monday, will pass through the Justice and Health Committees before her own. She also predicted that the bill will require less analysis in the upper than in the lower house.

"This time we have a chance to get the bill passed in the Senate," she told El Destape radio.

Although the Frente de Todos ruling coalition has 41 of the 72 seats in the upper house, the vote hangs in the balance because lawmakers are not expected to vote along party lines.

"There are some undecideds," said Durango.

Back in 2018 neither then-president Mauricio Macri nor vice-president Gabriela Michetti heading the Senate, both voicing pro-life stances, pushed the advance of this initiative but the panorama is seen as different this year with President Alberto Fernández, who sent the bill himself, decidedly in favour. 

Nevertheless, the upper house’s traditional conservatism is seen as a negative factor. 

This is the ninth time in majority-Catholic Argentina – homeland of Pope Francis – that a bill to legalise abortion has been presented in Congress. In Argentina, abortion is only permitted in cases of rape or danger to the woman’s life, under a 1921 law.

President Fernández announced last month he was bringing in the new bill, having promised the legislation during last year’s presidential election campaign. He said he intended to "guarantee that all women have access to the right to comprehensive health." 

The bill allows for voluntary abortions to be carried out up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

Health analysts estimate that between 370,000 and 520,000 clandestine abortions are performed annually in Argentina, according to government statistics.

If the bill passes the Senate, Argentina would join Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana as countries allowing abortion in Latin America. It is also legal in Mexico City.



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