Days after a morale-denting defeat in Congress, six lawmakers from President Javier Milei’s party have introduced a bill to Congress that would repeal Argentina’s abortion law.
A group of deputies from the ruling La Libertad Avanza caucus in Congress – Rocío Bonacci (Santa Fe), accompanied by Beltrán Benedit (Entre Ríos), María Fernanda Araujo (CABA), Lilia Lemoine (Buenos Aires), Manuel Quintar (Jujuy) and the head of the bloc, Oscar Zago (CABA) – presented a bill late Monday to repeal Law 27,610 granting access to the voluntary and legal termination of pregnancy and post-abortion care.
If passed, the bill would not only repeal the law, it would also criminalise and punish those who have abortions and those who practise them.
The text does not present any defence in the event of rape, although it leaves sentencing to the judge’s discretion “in consideration of the reasons that prompted her to commit the crime, her subsequent attitude, and the nature the fact.”
News of the move came just 24 hours after President Milei suffered a damaging setback in Congress when his controversial ‘omnibus’ mega reform bill was sent back to committee stage.
The president, who is currently in Israel on an overseas tour, is also due to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on February 12, in four days' time.
A former fierce critic of the Argentine pontiff, Milei has calmed his rhetoric in recent weeks and sought to improve ties. As the leader of the Catholic Church, Francis is a vocal opponent of abortion.
Milei is also a known opponent of abortion and his administration has not ruled out an attempt to repeal the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Law (IVE) passed by Congress in December 2020. It was promulgated on January 14, 2021 under Milei's predecessor-in-office, Alberto Fernández.
It establishes the right to abortion in all cases up to and including week fourteen. It also maintains the validity of the right to abortion in cases of rape and risk to the life of the mother without time limit.
The impetus for the bill's introduction is unclear. At least one of the La Libertad Avanza deputies denied signing the bill on Wednesday, while Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni claimed that Bonacci was acting independently.
“It is not part of the president’s agenda, it was not the president’s decision,” said Adorni.
La Libertad Avanza, which is a minority in both chambers of Congress, has only a small group of lawmakers – 38 out of 257 in the Chamber of Deputies and just seven out of 72 in the Senate.
Milei stated regularly during campaigning in last year’s presidential election that he would seek to repeal and modify Argentina’s abortion law.
During a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier in month, Milei referred to “the bloody abortion agenda,” and criticised feminist movements for their potential to upend liberal, capitalist Western nations.
Last month, the president declared 2024 to be the year "of the Defence of Life, Liberty and Property," ordering all government documents to carry the phrase.
News of the bill’s introduction generated widespread rejection from womens’ rights campaigners who fought for its approval. Several political leaders also voiced their opposition to it, including members of Milei’s own party.
Lawmaker Margarita Stolbizer, member of Hacemos Coalición Federal, vowed to defend the law “because it protects the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy, prevents the death of many women, especially the poorest ones, in the face of a State that still intends to be further absent.”
PRO lawmaker Silvia Lospennato, a vocal supporter of abortion reform who has backed Milei in Congress, expressed her disagreement on the X social network by posting a thumbs-down emoji and the word "no.”
Left-wing lawmaker Myriam Bregman, affirmed: "We can see deputies of La Libertad Avanza desperately use again patriarchal reaction as a unifying element, being a government and in the midst of public service cuts, adjustments and unleashed inflation.”
Lawmaker Carlos D'Alessandro, representative of La Libertad Avanza for San Luis Province, said in an interview with IP Noticias channel that it is “not necessary,” and that “the context does not give for this.”
Rocío Bonacci, one of those who supported the bill’s introduction, said Wednesday that the project “is my initiative, not the Executive's, and has been submitted to the consideration of the body of which I am a member. I defend life. No more, no less."
Bonacci is a 27-year-old podiatrist who, before taking public office, ran her own manicure shop. Her father is media businessman José Bonacci, also founder of Unite (Amalia Granata's party) and proxy of MODIN, ex-carapintada Aldo Rico's political party.
Members of Milei’s party and Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni previously said that repealing the abortion law was not a priority for this legislative year. Those plans seem to have changed in the wake of a damaging defeat in Congress, where the far-right leader’s party is in the minority.
Changes to law
In its text, the new bill proposes prison terms of between three to ten years in jail for those who cause abortions without the female’s consent, and between one to four years if the pregnant woman has consented.
The penalty may be increased to six years if there was consent but the pregnant woman dies, or to 15 years if she did not consent and expires.
In addition, the bill says that healthcare professionals in charge of performing said abortion should be struck off the medical register.
"Doctors, surgeons, midwives or pharmacists who abuse their science or art to cause abortion or cooperate in causing it shall also suffer special disqualification for twice the length of the sentence,” it reads.
The only exception to the rule is abortion carried out with consent “for the purpose of averting imminent danger to the life of the mother.” Such procedures would not be punishable by law, it states, “provided that the danger cannot be averted by other means.”
Those desperate enough to use unsafe practices will also be punished with jail time, though judges will be able to grant exemptions.
"A woman who causes her own abortion or consents to another woman causing her own abortion shall be punished with imprisonment of one to three years,” the bill reads.
“The judge may order that the woman be exempted from punishment in view of the motives that led her to commit the crime, her subsequent attitude, and the nature of the act," reads a proposed amendment.
Controversially, the bill also proposes the criminalisation of abortions that end pregnancies resulting from rape.
"We decided to eliminate the ground of non-punishability because we understand that it has been systematically interpreted as a justification for the practice,” the bill reads.
“However, such cases are covered by the proposed wording of article 88 of the Criminal Code, which authorises the judge to exempt the woman from punishment in view of the causes that led her to have an abortion and her subsequent behaviour, thus maintaining the criminal nature of the conduct.
“We believe that there is no reason, however dramatic, that justifies the discarding of an innocent life,” it concludes.