It was always going to be close, but now we finally have confirmation: yesterday Juan Carlos Romero, the Peronist Senator for Salta, finally confirmed that next Wednesday he would vote against the bill to legalize abortion . This means that the “against” camp now has the 36 vote majority needed to reject the bill.
Up until this point, Romero had avoided publicly defining his position, although it had already been speculated that he would vote against the bill. He finally confirmed his vote in a tweet yesterday, stating that he is respecting the will of the people of Salta.
“After months of analysis by the debate and having listened to diverse sector of society for and against [the bill], I observed that the majority of the people of Salta believe that the law to legalize abortion should be defeated, which is why I confirm my negative vote.”
Luego de meses de análisis por el debate y habiendo escuchado a diversos sectores de la sociedad a favor y en contra, advierto que existe la convicción mayoritaria de los salteños que la ley sobre la legalización del aborto no prospere por lo que confirmo mi voto negativo.
— Juan Carlos Romero (@RomeroxSalta) August 2, 2018
Even though two Peronist Senators are yet to confirm their position – Omar Perotti for Santa Fe and José Alperovich for Tucumán – the bill has effectively been defeated by 36 votes to 32, with one abstention and one absence. It would now take the non-attendance of some of the anti-abortion Senators to allow the bill to pass, which is unlikely given the controversy surrounding this debate.
This result was to be expected, following the news on Wednesday that pro-choice senators had failed to obtain enough votes to amend the proposed bill. The changes were intended to “soften” the text, in order to attract the votes of undecided and less staunch opponents. The most important of these proposed amendments were the reduction of the legal threshold from 14 weeks to 12 weeks gestation and the authorization of institutional conscientious objection.
Speaking to Radio Mitre, the Senate’s provisional President, Federico Pinedo, confirmed that half of the House was going to vote against the bill and slammed the move to legalize abortion. “The provisional approval from the Lower House is a very bad bill for many reasons. It’s very exaggerated, very extreme, very contrary to the Constitution and the treaties. It was an exaggeration and an outburst,” he said.
Although Senators have been urged to vote with their conscience, this is a vote clearly drawn across political lines. Only 8 out of the 25 Cambiemos senators (32 percent) will vote for the bill, while in the Unión Cívica Radical block, 9 out of the 12 senators (75 percent) are voting against the proposal. In contrast, Frente para La Victoria–PJ is voting almost unanimously in favor of legalizing abortion, while PRO and the Argentina Federal coalition are more evenly split.
There is also a geographical schism between votes, more or less following the voting patterns in the Lower House and mapping out the most conservative regions of Argentina. Senators representing regions in the north, such as Salta, Jujuy, and Tucumán, have been the loudest voices in the opposition to the bill, while those representing central and Patagonian regions have generally been more open to legalizing abortion.
What happens next?
There are three possible outcomes for the bill on Wednesday: approval without changes, approval with changes and rejection. Each of these results entail a differing course of action.
- If the bill is approved (without changes): The bill will become law and will be sent to the desk of President Macri to be signed.
- If the bill is approved (with changes): The bill will be sent back to the Lower House, at which point there are two possible paths. The first is to accept the text amended by Senate, at which point it becomes law. The second is that the Lower House rejects the changes and insist on the original text, in which case the bill retains provisional approval.
- If the bill is rejected: It cannot be debated until the next legislative period, which begins on March 1, 2019.
Pro-choice Senators had previously hoped that the bill would be approved with changes, as this would leave the ultimate decision to the Lower House. However, of the three possible paths for the bill, rejection seems to be the most probable at this point. It is also the one favored by the most ardent anti-abortion politicians, as it blocks the debate until the next legislative period.
Furthermore, much of the next parliamentary year will be spent preparing for the presidential elections taking place in October 2019, so it could 2020 before the bill is on the table once again. Even so, the controversy generated by this bill will likely make it a prominent feature of the election debates, meaning it will remain at the forefront of the political agenda for the foreseeable future.