Ginés González García will assume the role of health minister on December 10, after president-elect Alberto Fernández confirmed the appointment in an interview with C5N on Tuesday.
The incoming official intends to get straight to work. The first order of business, according to González García, will be the “rapid application” of the protocol updating the guidelines for non-punishable abortions in Argentina. That protocol was controversially struck down by President Mauricio Macri just two weeks ago, hours after its introduction by former health secretary Adolfo Rubinstein, who according to government officials went rogue in introducing it.
“It is a procedural guide for health workers,” he said during an interview with Continental radio station.
González García, a doctor, added that the re-establishment of the protocol would allow girls between the ages of 13 and 17 to voluntarily seek and access a safe, legal abortion without parental approval. The case goes that pregnancy at such a young age poses an inherent health risk to the mother, as outlined by the World Health Organisation.
“Health is not just a human right, but also a political tool,” González García said.
The appointment will be accompanied by a bureaucratic upgrade of the portfolio. Under Mauricio Macri, the ministerial position was downgraded to a secretary, a move Fernández has criticised.
González García is no stranger to the department. He has already served as health minister three times — once for the Buenos Aires Province government and twice at the federal level — and he touts a lengthy list of health-related achievements, almost all of which have helped earn him the reputation as a polarising figure.
The veteran politician pushed through a national prescription drug law that reduced drug prices by mandating the of prescriptions of medications under their generic name, severely curtailing the potential profits of medicine makers. Predictably, it earned him the enmity of many prescription drug companies.
“Argentina faced a major inflationary moment and [the law] recuperated access for many people to necessary medications,” he told Infobae in an interview 12 years later.
Working under Néstor Kirchner, González García also helped to develop Argentina’s sexual education plan and fought for affordable distribution of contraception and medication.
But perhaps his most infamous policy quest was his effort to decriminalise and legalise abortion. Long-brewing tensions with the Catholic Church ruptured into an explosive conflict in 2007, when the government proposed a law that would have made the public health system provide the morning after pill for free as part of the National Program of Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation.
A number of clergymen, including the outspoken La Plata Archbishop Hector Aguer, accused him of “creating the climate to decriminalise abortion.” González García responded by saying they’d peddled “lies” that the morning-after pill was the same as having an abortion, despite “scientific proof showing that this is not the case.”
The escalation prompted him to resign from his post. Under the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration, he was appointed Argentina's ambassador in Chile, a post he held until Mauricio Macri became president in 2015
When Alberto Fernández won the PASO primaries in August, González García’s name was one of the first to be rumoured for the health portfolio. Speaking to Perfil before the Frente de Todos leader's victory in October that he intended to be “involved in the efforts” of the Fernández-Fernández ticket “from within or outside the government.”
In addition to the abortion fight, Garcia also said he’d prioritise addressing the reappearance of illnesses that were considered basically extinct in Argentina, citing diseases like measles and highlighting the lack of adequate vaccines. He also announced he’d likely declare a “state of health emergency” nationwide early on in his term.