The pañuelazo, an answer of the pro choice movement in regards to the abortion bill. (Photo via Télam / Osvaldo Fantón)

The debate over decriminalization of abortion is finally set to begin in the Lower House tomorrow. 32 people are expected to deliver their respective presentations before members of the special committees who will determine whether to send the bill to the Lower House floor.

Half of the presenters will be in favor of the bill while the other half will be against, and each one of them will have seven minutes to present their case.

They will not, however, be confronted with each other. Those who advocate in favor of decriminalization will deliver their presentations from 10 AM to 1 PM, while pro-lifers will do so from 3 to 6 PM. The deputies present will be able to ask them questions, and considering that they seem to be equally divided as well, we should be getting ready to witness an pretty fired up debate.

The list of witnesses was made based on proposals from the members of the four special committees – General Legislation, Public Health, Family Affairs, and Criminal Legislation – that will take part in the debate. Some of the most well known figures who will speak in favor of decriminalization are: actresses Griselda Siciliani and Carla Peterson, and journalist Luis Novaresio.

Moreover, high-profile lawyers will provide legal arguments to the bill introduced by the Campaign for Legal, Free and Safe abortion: 89 year-old Nelly Miyensky, who is a specialist in family affairs, constitutional lawyer Andrés Gil Domínguez, and expert in applied ethics Marcelo Alegre.

The main representatives of the other camp in this first session will be “father” Pepe, a priest who is well known for his work in Argentine villas (slums) and Rodolfo Barra, a former Supreme Court Justice during the Menem administrations. Barra was also Justice minister in the 90s, when he tried – and failed – to include an article banning abortion in the 1994 constitutional reform.

Photo via Télam / Osvaldo Fantón)
Photo via Télam / Osvaldo Fantón)

Supporters from each camp will be sitting outside Congress while the witnesses present their cases. The Campaign for Legal, Free and Safe abortion has called a march for tomorrow at 9 30 AM, while pro-life groups will do the same in the afternoon.

The debate is set to extend until the end of May, when authorities are planning on having the special committees vote. At least 16 of each committee’s 31 members have to give the bill the green light for it to make it to the floor.

Should that happen  the bill will then need to have the support of at least 129 deputies (more than half of the Lower House’s 257 members). This is set to be a challenge: according to a recent poll conducted by La Nación, 98 deputies would currently vote in favor, and 110 against.

The bills passing, then, would rest on those 49 deputies who still either have not made up their minds or are keeping their votes in secret.

But even if the bill makes it through, it would face an even more uphill scenario in the Upper House. Again, according to La Nación, there are currently 16 senators in favor and 27 against, meaning that 21 of the 29 remaining should vote in favor for it to actually become a law, considering that President Mauricio Macri has already said that despite being personally against the bill, he will not veto it if it’s passed.

The bill in question has the support from 71 lawmakers across the political spectrum, and seeks for abortions to be permissible up to 14 weeks without judicial authorization and to be covered by public and private health systems.

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. Furthermore, the language in the draft legislation sets out that abortions do not require prior judicial authorization and that they must take place in a period no greater than five days after it is requested.

Abortions 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 is required in situations where the person seeking an abortion is younger than 13.

Currently abortions in Argentina are considered illegal and subject to criminal prosecution except in the cases of a threat to the life of the woman, or in cases of pregnancy as a result of rape or sexual abuse of a woman with mental disability. The bill sets out that there is no time limit for abortions in the cases of rape, abuse, threat to the women’s health or physical integrity, or in the cases of severe fetal malformations.