Argentina Senate rejects bill to legalize abortion

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Credit: Henner Damke/Shutterstock.

Concluding a 16-hour legislative session in the early hours of August 9, the Argentina Senate rejected a bill to legalize first-trimester abortion.

Pro-life advocates welcomed the results of the vote.

“Argentina has embraced life despite huge international pressure to give up existing legislation protecting life and freedom of conscience,” said Neydy Casillas, senior counsel for ADF International.

The vote against the bill was 38-31, with two senators abstaining and one absent.  

The legislation, which narrowly passed the House of Representatives in June, sought to allow abortion on-demand up to 14 weeks gestation, and through the ninth month of pregnancy on the grounds of rape, if doctors deem the mother’s life or health to be endangered, or if the baby receives a diagnosis of non-viability.

It would have allowed minors under 16 to get an abortion without having to inform their parents, and would have prohibited conscientious objection by healthcare institutions.

With the result, the bill is dead for this legislative year, although it could be reintroduced in a congressional debate in 2019.

The current law in Argentina prohibits abortion, except when the mother’s life or health is determined to be in danger, or in cases of rape.

Senator Silvia Elías de Pérez was one the final presenters against the abortion bill during the legislative debate.

She stressed that legalizing abortion would mean “establishing a new discrimination between those who are wanted and those who are not.”

Rather than abandoning desperate women to abortion, she said, the state should accompany those in difficult pregnancies. “To legalize abortion is really to admit plainly and simply the failure of the State.”

The senator also charged that during the months of public discussion surrounding the bill, “those of us who profess the Catholic faith have been reviled as has never before happened in Argentina.”

During the Senate debate, a Mass for Life was celebrated, with Argentinian Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli presiding. Attendees overflowed from the Buenos Aires cathedral out into the streets.

In his homily, the cardinal reiterated that “abortion will always be a tragedy” and “is far from being a solution.” He voiced prayers that the senators would “legislate for the common good, put forward the best of your experiences in order to safeguard everyone’s right to life, especially the weakest and most defenseless.”

Between 70 and 90 percent of Argentinians are estimated to be Catholic. A pro-life march in the country earlier this year drew approximately 150,000 attendees.

Despite wind and rain, thousands of Argentinians spent the evening outside the National Congress building to await the results of the vote.

When the final tally was announced, pro-life demonstrators celebrated with cheers and fireworks.

Some abortion advocates lit fires and threw rocks at police, according to local media reports. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, and most of the clashes were quickly settled, CNN said.

Amnesty International Argentina, which supports abortion, lamented the vote, saying that the senators “lost an historic opportunity to be leaders in human rights” and announced that they will not rest “until there is legal abortion.”

However, Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, countered that “There is no ‘right to abortion’ under international law.”

“We applaud the Argentinian Senate for upholding the fundamental rights to life and conscience,” he said. “The people of Argentina may now continue to live in a country where both lives matter: the life of the mother and the life of the child.”

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