Why Argentinian Senate voted against legal abortion

Lawmakers reject bill that would have allowed elective termination in first 14 weeks of pregnancy

Abortion Argentina
A pro-choice demonstrator in Buenos Aires
(Image credit: Twitter)

Argentina’s Senate has rejected a bill to legalise elective abortion, following a bitterly contentious debate in the predominantly Catholic country.

Senators debated for more than 15 hours before eventually voting down the proposal 38 to 31, with two abstentions and one absentee.

The measure had already passed Argentina’s lower house of Congress, and President Mauricio Macri had said he would sign it if the Bill was approved by the Senate.

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Current laws only allow the procedure in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is at risk. The Bill would have expanded abortion rights to allow women to end a pregnancy by choice within the first 14 weeks.

According to activists who supported the proposal, the Catholic Church is responsible for the outcome of the vote.

“The Church put pressure on senators to vote against the Bill,” Ana Correa, a member of the #NiUnaMenos (“Not one woman less”) feminist movement told The Guardian.

During the debate, conservative Senator Mario Fiad called abortion a “tragedy” and said he opposed the legislation, arguing that it was “unconstitutional”.

“The right to life is about to become the weakest of rights,” he said.

But opposition Senator Pedro Guastavino said that while he was initially against the proposal, he had changed his mind after learning about the extent to which illegal abortions are putting lives at risk.

“The only way to understand this is through the point of view of public health,” said Guastavino.

The issue has bitterly divided Argentinians, “pitting conservative doctors and the Roman Catholic Church against feminist groups and other physicians”, says The Sydney Morning Herald.

Anti-abortion activist Victoria Osuna told Reuters that the rejection of the Bill showed that “Argentina is still a country that represents family values”.

However, Celia Szusterman, director of the Latin America programme at the London-based Institute for Statecraft, told CNN that is was “a step backward for women’s rights and women’s health”.

She said it was a “sad day... not only because of the way the vote went but the way the campaign for and against went. It was so divisive.”

Despite the setback, campaigners still believe that Argentina will have legalise abortion eventually.

Mariela Belski, Argentina’s Amnesty International director, told The Guardian: “A survey we did this year showed 60% support for an abortion law.”

Argentinin journalist Silvina Marquez added: “We might not have a law today, but it is going to happen. Argentina is not going back to this, it is important for the women, especially for the young women. So sooner or later we’ll have an abortion law.”

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