The Mauricio Macri administration has revoked a protocol updating the guidelines for non-punishable abortions, only a few hours after its publication in the Official Gazette on Wednesday, sparking controversy within and beyond the ruling coalition over a hot-topic issue in Argentina.
The resolution, which detailed "Protocol for the comprehensive care of people entitled to legal termination of pregnancy" (ILE), had been signed by Health Secretary Adolfo Rubinstein (who enjoyed ministerial rank until Macri streamlined his Cabinet 14 months ago), a member of the UCR-Radical wing of the outgoing government coalition.
This new protocol recognised the right of adolescents (in this case those aged under 16) to decide on the interruption of their pregnancies in cases falling within the law in accordance with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
It indicated that girls aged between 13 and 16 years old do not need authorisation from their parents or guardians to seek the procedure, unless it involves a high level of risk. Those under 13 do need permission from their parents or guardians. Should the legally responsible adults refuse to grant permission, healthcare professionals do have the right to step in, but only the grounds of principles related to the health of the pregnant girl, and not for ideological or religious reasons.
Current Argentine legislation authorises an abortion only when the woman’s life is in danger or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.
Rubinstein, a militant activist in favour of legalisation, who lobbied hard for the abortion reform bill frustrated in the Senate last year, described the new proposal as “a great step forward to continue advancing towards the consolidation of rights and the protection of public health with equity.” But his initiative triggered a crisis within the outgoing Cambiemos coalition in its last three weeks.
Questions about chain of command
"The Health Secretary’s resolution seems to me deplorable and clearly unconstitutional, irresponsibly expanding the justification for non-indictable abortion and limiting the conscientious objectors within the medical profession," complained outgoing Senator Federico Pinedo (who heads the upper house under the vice-president), a member of Macri’s PRO centre-right party.
The protocol did not meet with the approval of Rubinstein’s superior, Social Development Minister Carolina Stanley, either, who complained that she had not been consulted – one of the justifications given by the government for nixing it.
Rumours soon circulated that Rubinstein’s resignation had been requested but these were denied by officials. Radical authorities within the ruling coalition promptly stated their solidarity with their party colleague with a signed resolution.
The Kirchnerite opposition was quick to criticise the contradictions within the government ,with former Health minister Ginés González García and Pablo Yedlin (tipped for the portfolio in the incoming government) at the forefront. The latter rebutted Pinedo’s “unconstitutional” argument, saying that Rubinstein was not trying to legislate anything from the Executive branch since the causes permitting a legal abortion had been in the Criminal Code for over 100 years. Yedlin also sharply criticised Stanley’s qualifications to decide over public health.
Despite clearing the way for last year’s abortion bill to be presented in Congress, Macri adopted a pro-life stance during the election campaign. In contrast, president-elect Alberto Fernández recently announced that he would push the legalisation of abortion "as soon as" he takes office next month, regarding the question as a public health issue.
Poignant cases of child pregnancies constantly bring the issue to the fore –in the midst of the latest political controversy, in Jujuy, José Dávalos, 60, was sentenced on Wednesday to 13 years in prison for raping a girl of 12, a crime resulting in a birth by caesarean section with the baby dying four days later.
It is estimated that there are around half a million abortions in Argentina very year with 100 or more women dying as a result of illegal procedures.