Ever since the Argentine government announced it wouldn’t try to block the debate about the decriminalization of abortion in Congress, the issue immediately dominated the national conversation.
News sites and politicians have been conducting polls in Congress ever since to see what the real chances are that the bill introduced on March 6 actually be passed. At the same time, pollsters are trying to see how society feels about it. Oh, and taking into account how sensitive this subject is, some lawmakers have even proposed to hold a referendum.
And before you ask, yes, all of this has happened even before the debate hits the special committees in Congress that the bill has to go through before making it to the floor.
On top of that, there is also speculation that the main political actors across the spectrum may have ulterior motives behind the debate itself, given its high sensibility. Government officials and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner have been accused of political opportunism, but we will talk about that later.
Let’s break down all the different conversations that are surrounding the abortion debate in Argentina and analyze them one by one.
THE BILL AND THE POSSIBILITY OF IT BEING PASSED BY CONGRESS
On March 6, a bill calling for the decriminalization and legalization of abortions in the first 14 weeks of gestation was formally introduced in the Lower House of Congress with support from 71 deputies from across the political spectrum.
The bill, based on the model legislation favored by the National Campaign for Legal, Free and Safe Abortions, sets out that the public and private health systems must incorporate abortions into the services that they offer. Also, the language in the draft legislation sets out that abortions do not require a prior court authorization and that they must take place in a period no greater than five days after it is requested.
- Read more: Argentina’s Abortion Decriminalization Bill Has Been Formally Introduced. Here’s What it Says
Each procedure would require the prior written and informed consent of the woman seeking the abortion. According to the language in the bill, consent is considered valid from age 13 onward. The consent of one parent or a legal guardian would be required in situations where the person seeking an abortion is younger than 13.
However, despite its momentum, it does not seem likely that the bill will be passed. Each congressional instance that the bill is expected to go through seems harder than the previous one, and the scenario is already looking pretty tough before it’s even began.
There are four special committees that the bill needs to go through before making it to the Lower House floor: General Legislation, Public Health, Family Affairs and Criminal Legislation. Each committee is composed of 31 deputies from different parties, and at least 16 of them need to support it before it gets the green light.
Clarín recently conducted a poll among committee members, and the results are, well, not that great.
- General Legislation: 14 in favor, 12 against and five undecided.
- Family Affairs: 15 in favor, 12 against and four undecided.
- Criminal Legislation: 11 in favor, 16 against and four undecided.
- Public Health: the committee has not been set yet.
For now we also don’t know whether it will have to be approved by all committees separately – in which case, the fact that 16 deputies from Criminal Legislation are against it (according to Clarín) would practically doom the initiative – or if there will be a voting that includes all four of them together.
All of this will be defined on March 20, in the first official meeting to debate the issue in Congress. The debate itself will either begin on April 3 or April 10.
But let’s say that somehow the bill is approved by all committees and makes it to the Lower House floor. Then it becomes even steeper.
A source from Congress told The Bubble that, at the moment this article is being written, there are close to 100 deputies who would vote in favor. However, a tally conducted by Clarín indicates that there are 102 against. If we round up the ones in favor to 100, they would still need to convince 29 out of the 55 remaining deputies who have not made their position public to get an absolute majority (half of the votes plus one) to send the bill to the Senate.
However, here is where almost all speculation ends. Even though most Senators have not expressed where they stand on the issue, the Upper House is known for being much more conservative than the Lower House, and getting the 37 positive votes necessary to pass it looks like nothing short of a quixotic endeavor.
OK, BUT WHERE DO THE ARGENTINE PEOPLE STAND?
For the last few weeks, pollsters has stopped asking people about inflation and crime to focus on abortion. The numbers predictably vary depending on the study and the geographical area covered, but in the three ones we picked, the percentage of people in favor is higher than the one against.
A studio conducted by D’Alessio Irol consultancy indicated that 58 percent of the people surveyed believe that women who decide to have an abortion as a result of a case that is not an exception currently included in the criminal code should not go to prison. 31 percent disagreed, arguing that life begins at conception.
Another poll, conducted by Opinaia Argentina, found out that out of the 1,000 people it surveyed, 44 percent was in favor of decriminalizing abortion, while 41 percent was against – the remaining people either did not know or did not want to answer.
Finally, one conducted by Management & Fit assured that 57.7 percent of 900 people interviewed in the City and Province of Buenos Aires are in favor of the bill, while 31.8 is against.
However, this poll should be taken with a grain of salt and not extrapolate it to the rest of the country, considering that urban centers tend to be more in favor of progressive measures than most areas in the interior. For example, it is much more likely that a study conducted in the Northwestern provinces of the country, which are much more influenced by the Catholic Church, would have much lower rates of approval.
SAN LUIS DEPUTIES PROPOSED A REFERENDUM
Three deputies from the San Luis province argued that, given the issue’s high sensitivity, the debate should “not only take place in the City and Province of Buenos Aires, but throughout the whole country.” That’s why on February 27 they introduced a bill aimed at calling a national referendum.
“Do you agree with the interruption of a pregnancy and the decriminalization of abortion?” is the question that would be asked. However, it is highly unlikely this will happen.
ACCUSATIONS OF OPPORTUNISM, GIVEN THE TIMING OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT
Even though the massiveness of the debate increased exponentially following the government’s announcement, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Far from that. A few days before, thousands of activists marched to Congress demanding this very bill be introduced, for the seventh time since 2007.
That’s why some voices claim that Cambiemos took advantage of a discussion that would be taking place anyway, in an attempt to score political points and at the same time turn away the spotlight from the political conversation of the last months, which mainly focused on the country’s economic woes and corruption cases in which government officials were involved.
In a radio interview last week, leftist City Legislator Myriam Bregman argued that the government is using the debate as a “smokescreen.”
“Every time I am asked if [Macri] does it with opportunistic purposes, I say yes. But I see myself forced to clarify that there are other opportunists who say ‘since Macri is speculating with it, we don’t have to talk about it, we have to focus on other issues,” as if it didn’t matter. No. Women have fought a lot for this. The government was forced to promote the debate for a reason,” she said, illustrating the argument used by those who support this theory.
The President and most of Cambiemos’ high-ranking officials said in more than one opportunity that they are against decriminalizing abortion, but that they promote a “mature and respectful debate” anyway. And according to La Nación, the decision has been made in the Casa Rosada to accept its outcome, meaning Macri wouldn’t veto it, should it be passed in Congress and reach his desk.
But the accusation does not only reach Cambiemos.
In the same interview, Bregman also targeted former President Cristina Kirchner. “A female president, who in her speeches made sure to say ‘todos y todas,’ extremely correct in the manners… but when it came to actual content, she denied women the right to legal, free and safe abortion.”
The fact that the former President always prevented her own congressional caucus – which had its own majority in the Lower House during part of her administrations – from even raising the idea of debating abortion will surely be brought up if she ends up saying she is in favor, like former Kirchnerite deputy Diana Conti posited.
All these questions will start being answered in the next few weeks.
Stay tuned, as this debate will continue to dominate the national conversation during at least the first semester of the year.