Argentina braces for crucial abortion vote

Argentina allows abortion - but activists want to loosen the laws. Will they succeed?

AFP, Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentine lawmakers face a crucial vote on Wednesday to decide whether or not to loosen abortion laws amidst fiercely polarized campaigns for and against the proposed bill.

Last week the Senate approved the text for the bill that was originally passed by Congress' lower house in June by the narrowest of margins.

This time, though, it is widely expected to fall short of the votes necessary to pass into law, with 37 of the 72 senators said to be ready to say no despite a widespread social campaign to have it adopted.

But despite projections and strong opposition from the highly influential Catholic Church in the homeland of Pope Francis, campaigners are not giving up hope.

"We're doing everything so that the initiative passes. We have faith in the street movement," leading campaigner Julia Martino told AFP. "We believe many senators will show their support when the vote happens."

Currently, abortion is allowed in Argentina in only three cases, similar to most of Latin America: rape, a threat to the mother's, life or if the fetus is disabled.

If passed, the bill would legalize all abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and see Argentina join Uruguay and Cuba as the only countries in the region to fully decriminalize it. Similar abortion laws apply in Mexico City, while in the Central American trio of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion remains totally banned.

With the tide seemingly flowing against legalizing all abortion, pro-abortion groups tried to amend the bill to reduce from 14 to 12 weeks the period in which it would be permitted, but that move failed.

At midnight, protesters wearing green scarves began a demonstrating in front of Congress. The demonstration is planned to last until the announcement of the vote result. Other demonstrations will take place around the world in front of Argentine diplomatic missions.

In mid-June, the lower house voted in favor by just 129 to 125 thanks in part to the nonetheless pro-life liberal President Mauricio Macri's insistence in pushing the bill through parliament.

Pro-abortionists claim the issue is a question of social justice, public health and women's rights.

Various charities have estimated that 500,000 illegal, secret abortions are carried out every year in Argentina, resulting in around 100 deaths.

But the anti-abortionists are not lacking support and planning their own demonstrations under the banner: "Let's save both lives."

Priests and nuns have been joined by Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams and other Christian churches to oppose the bill. In addition, the Catholic Church appointed a bishop, Alberto Bochatey, to handle dialogue with Congress on the issue.

Last month, Bochatey, 62, told AFP that "you cannot make a law to justify the elimination of human life," but said the Church is against penal detention as a sanction for those carrying out illegal abortions.

Opponents, though, are angry about what they see as Church interference in what should be secular affairs: Campaigner Elsa Schvartzman that one of activists' demands is an "effectively secular state."