The iconic green bandana that has become a symbol of the fight for reproductive rights in Argentina. Source: Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.
Latin America is one of the regions in the world that has the strictest policies regarding female reproductive rights. However, we are currently witnessing an unprecedented civil backlash against these restrictions led by women in Argentina.
Thanks to the pressure placed on politicians by the feminist movement #AbortoLegalYa, on the 14th of June the draft bill that would legalise abortion was passed through the Chamber of Deputies with 129 votes in favour and 124 against. Now the draft bill must pass through the Senate, where it will be voted on the 8th August.
Women’s rights advocates across Latin America anxiously await the results of this crucial vote. If the bill is passed, Argentina will become the fifth country of the region to completely legalise abortion along with Cuba, Guayana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay.
It would also be the first of Latin America’s major powers to do so, and as a consequence could influence others in the region to take a similar stance.
This is what you need to know about the debate and the current draft bill:
Content of the bill: The bill passed by the Chamber of Deputies allows for the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy up until the 14th week, and endorses not just the decriminalisation of abortion but also its legalisation. In other words, women would not only no longer be criminalised for aborting but they would also be able to access safe and free abortions through the national health care system. Although the project recognises the right to individual conscientious objection, it ensures this should not constitute a barrier to women accessing abortions.
Historical context of the bill: It’s the seventh time that the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortions has presented the draft bill in the last 13 years, however this time it’s with the support of over 500 women’s rights organisations and for the first time, with the commitment from the President that the final result will be respected. This occurs in the context of months of street mobilisations preceding the vote where activists in favour of the legalisation of abortion took to the streets with the iconic green bandana which has become a symbol of the fight for reproductive rights in Argentina.
How the process works: The draft will now needs the approval of the majority of the senators in order to become national legislation. There are three possible results at this moment in time: that the Senate rejects the bill, that they approve it, or that they approve it with alterations. If the Senate alters the bill, it will have to return to the Chamber of Deputies, and if they reject it the draft bill will be archived until 2019. Many senators have already presented modifications such as senator Pinedo, who has attempted to restrict the proposals approved with a measure that would force women to continue with their pregnancies then put their baby up for adoption.
The political positions within the Senate: There is a slight advantage of legislators who reject the legalisation of abortion, but there are also a significant number on legislators who are undecided, and how they vote will help determine the results. Out of the 72 members of the Senate, 26 have pronounced themselves as against the bill, 29 have yet to decide, and only 17 have declared they are in favour. Throughout the process, many senators have changed their stance, like ex-president Cristina Kirchner, who had always proclaimed herself to be against the legalisation of abortion, but declared recently on twitter that she would vote along with her block FPV-PJ in favour of the bill.
What can we expect now?
The leaders of the majority blocks within the Chamber of Deputies Muguel Pichetto and Luis Naidenoff believe the bill will be approved. However, the vote in the Chamber, in which there was more support for the legalisation of abortion than there is in the Senate, indicates the result is completely unpredictable.
There was uncertainty until the final moments of the vote as all blocks were divided on the issue, apart from the left which was the only group that positioned themselves in favour of legalisation.
In a few days, the result from the vote in the Senate will be revealed and a rejection of the bill is highly likely in a country where the Catholic church remains an important political actor. However, the successful permanent street demonstrations that have mobilised argentines around the country, provides hope to the #AbortoLegalYa movement and reproductive rights advocates across the Americas.