More than 70 lawmakers from several political parties today formally presented a bill before Congress to legalise elective abortion, without judicial authorisation, in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Some of lawmakers wore green handkerchiefs, a symbol of the abortion rights movement, as the measure was introduced on Tuesday.
Legislative efforts to allow elective abortions have failed in the past, but the new measure appears to have wider backing. President Mauricio Macri recently said that even though he is anti-abortion, Congress should launch a “mature” debate on broader legalisation of abortion, following a recent demonstration outside the National Congress building in favour of reform.
With the signature of 71 deputies in total, the new bill is based on text prepared by the National Campaign for Legal, Free and Safe Abortions NGO. It includes the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, in all cases, in the first 14 weeks of gestation. It includes language that would oblige both private and public healthcare providers to incorporate procedures to terminate pregnancies into the services offered through their plans. Prior judicial authorisation would no longer be required, should the bill pass in its existing form.
The project is set to begin to be debated on March 20 at committee level, and some experts have estimated that in roughly 60 days it could come to a vote. According to analysts, the Senate is even more resistant to reform than the Lower House.
As the law was introduced, abortion-rights proponents chanted, “Contraceptives to avoid aborting and legal abortion to avoid death!”
Repeated attempts to reform existing abortion legislation and decriminalise the procedure have failed in recent years in Argentina, a country with a strong Catholic population and influence. Bills have traditionally failed to pass the committee level in Congress.
According to experts, one-third of maternal deaths in Argentina are a result of clandestine abortions. The government estimates that between 370,000 and 522,000 abortions are performed every year, most of them illegal, with deaths from clandestine procedures disproportionately hitting the poor.
The major hurdle for abortion reformists will be the Senate, where most sitting members have expressed their opposition to more liberal legislation.
Abortion has been illegal since the adoption of Argentina’s Criminal Code in the 1880s, and 1922 saw the addition of exceptions by which abortion is not to be punished. Article 86 of the Criminal Code states that “abortion practiced by a licensed physician with the consent of the woman involved is not punishable by law if: a) the abortion was performed because the woman’s life or health was in danger and if this danger cannot be avoided by other means; b) if the pregnancy is the result of rape, or sexual intercourse with a woman incapable of giving her consent due to her mental health.”
During the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), the restrictions on abortion were tightened, with abortion only allowed if the person had been raped and they were mentally disabled, or if the pregnancy posed a “grave” threat to the person’s health or life. The rules returned to their 1922 version once the dictatorship ended.
A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2012 changed things. In the court’s judgement, it was established that any instance of rape was grounds for seeking out an abortion, not only in the specific case of mentally disabled women, and that judicial authorisation is not necessary for an abortion. Today, the only documentation necessary when someone seeks out an abortion following rape or abuse is a signed affidavit stating their case. However, the law still criminalises abortion outside of those exceptions, and women who successfully selfinduce an abortion are subject to jail time if found guilty.
For more read: Activists renew calls for legal abortions