As Congress gears up for the legislative year’s official start on March 1, it seems clear that during at least the next few months, the central focus will be on the debate over which changes, if any, lawmakers can agree on regarding the existing abortion laws.
The debate prospects have been boosted by the decision of those who support the decriminalization and legalization of abortion to withdraw a request for a special session on March 8th to discuss the matter on the floor of the Lower House. Instead, the matter will be tackled in committee – with the decision over which committee will be considered the leading one now a subject of internal strife.
Congress has been buzzing with talk of abortion since it became clear last week that the Casa Rosada would not block debate on the issue. Both abortion activists and lawmakers in favor of legalization have been seeking changes to the law for years; last week, thousands mobilized to Congress (and online) in support of reforms.
With regard to the request for a session on March 8th to debate a bill drafted by the Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortions – coinciding with International Women’s Day and a women’s strike – Libres del Sur Lawmaker Victoria Donda said today that “even if it’s a bill that was first introduced more than 12 years ago in the Lower House, out of respect to the new lawmakers who have the right to participate in debate, there has been a decision to postpone the request for a special session.”
Noting that the ruling Cambiemos coalition had sought to have the matter dealt with in committee, Donda added that there was hope that this wouldn’t be “a delaying tactic to avoid debate.”
Abortion is currently illegal and considered a crime in Argentina, except in circumstances that threaten a woman’s life or cases of pregnancy following rape, or sexual abuse of a woman with a mental disability. Lawmakers seeking decriminalization are reintroducing a bill that would legalize abortions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, no questions asked.
The reintroduction of the bill, now submitted to Congress for the seventh time, is necessary, as each bill expires after two years if it is not passed into law. There hasn’t been enough support within Congress nor in the Executive in the past to push the bill forward.
At a meeting last night at the Olivos presidential residence, Macri told a large group of Cambiemos lawmakers that he wanted a “comprehensive and respectful” debate, saying that “society has to see us debating.”
“There mustn’t be fear in Cambiemos to think differently. I’m in favor of life and that is my position, but I respect others who think differently,” he added, according to La Nación. The Cambiemos caucus – made up of representatives of the PRO, Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and the Coalición Cívica – is divided with respect to decriminalizing abortion, much like the other caucuses in Congress. As such, Macri said that he wanted to see two Cambiemos lawmakers respectfully defending opposite points of view on television.
Macri will formally open this year’s Congress on Thursday, giving a speech outlining his government’s agenda in what is traditionally one of the most important political addresses of the year. Given the intense lobbying that can be expected, both in favor and against changes to the existing abortion laws, it is possible that the president will make mention of the matter on Thursday.
Regardless, lawmakers from across the political spectrum are planning to hold a “symbolic” demonstration on the 8th of March, a week later, to signal their commitment to reform.