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Abortion Debate: Pro-Choice Legislators Demand a Vote in the Senate

Senators set the date for August 8, while activists mobilize across the country.

By | [email protected] | June 27, 2018 3:11pm

IMG_4872The Campaign for Legal Abortion and various Senators meet at Congress for a press conference on Tuesday. (Photo: Chande Blurton)

Last night, abortion rights activists in Argentina came together for a pañuelazo federal, a nationwide pro-choice demonstration, to show support for the law to decriminalize abortion and urge Congress to take immediate action to push the bill through Commissions and to the vote. Men and women came together for 75 gatherings in major cities across the country, from Salta to Tierra del Fuego, green scarves in tow. The message was heard loud and clear: they will not give up until abortion is legal, safe, and free.

Actrices gather at Congress, carrying brooms named for the participating cities. (Photo: Chande Blurton)

Earlier that same afternoon, leaders from the abortion campaign joined pro-choice Senators for a press conference, where they attempted to regain control of the narrative surrounding the legislation. The most-emphasized topics were: Vice President Gabriela Michetti’s alleged obstruction of the law’s passage, the role of the interior in the debate, and demanding that the Senate take the bill to a vote.

Why Now?

The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion, that organized yesterday’s events in Buenos Aries, states: “We demand action without delay in the Senate and that they [respect] the law to the letter by which it passed in the Lower House, and that a date for which the bill will be voted is agreed upon in the next parliamentary meeting.”

Amid the tension, Senators in a parliamentary meeting agreed that the bill to decriminalize or legalize abortion would be voted on August 8, sooner that anyone expected.

Let’s recall that Senate VP Gabriela Michetti has recently garnered criticism from the pro-choice camp because of her perceived attempts to bog down the legislative process with excess bureaucracy. After the Lower House sanctioned the bill, Michetti decided it must be approved by four Senate Commissions before it go to a vote. Two of these Commissions, Budget and Constitutional Affairs, are led by staunch detractors of the bill and could seriously impede its speed (and success) in passing through Congress.

Gabriela Michetti at the Senate. (Photo via Clarín)

Fernanda Sagasti said during the press conference, “Article 89 establishes that bills must be turned over to one Commission. […] This process has been elongated and, moreover, been made into a political issue. There is questionable regulatory violation.”

On Tuesday, the Senate’s pro-choice faction established that they and the rest of the country are playing close attention to how this piece of legislation is handled; they will not stand quietly and let it be struck down.

A “Public Health Investment”

At the press conference, pro-choice Senators also addressed the worry that an abortion law would result increase public spending via surging healthcare costs, therefore necessitating a review from the Budget Commission.

“The expenses [incurred] if the law passed would be fifty percent less than they are now,” said Nancy González, Chubut representative from the Frente para la Victoria.

Nancy González speaking at Congress on Tuesday. (Photo: Chande Blurton)

The pro-choice voices continued to take jabs at Michetti’s decision to send the bill to the Budget Commission. María de los Angeles Sacnun (FpV – Santa Fe) suggests the law may increase some expenses, but in the end it would save the state money. “It’s not just about outright expenses, this is an investment in public health.” She argued that continuously defunding the programs that provide free contraception and comprehensive sex education has compounded the abortion crisis.

Following the press conference, Clarín reports that Senators discussed coming to a “middle ground” by only sending the bill to three Commissions—cutting out Budget—instead of Michetti’s original four-Commission plan. There will be a parliamentary meeting today to hash out the details.

Not Just One “Interior”

In explaining her original decision to send the bill to four commissions, which would undoubtedly delay its progress through Senate, Michetti said, “I spent all night thinking about how to deal with the bill. I felt pressure. The Senators represent the interior, and all of the interior is against it. There is a huge difference between the interior and the big cities. There were pressures from both sides.”

Although Michetti already received her fair share of criticism for painting the provinces with such a broad brush, Senators also took the opportunity to respond to this claim. At yesterday’s press conference, some legislators pushed back against the idea that the interior is completely against the bill. Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti said, “I’m from the province of Mendoza. We are the ‘interior,’ but Mendoza’s pañuelazo is going to the the biggest in Argentina.”

While it is perhaps unproductive to make such a sweeping generalization about the beliefs of an entire section of the country, Michetti’s statement is troubling at a more basic level: she is essentially admitting that she wants to delay the bill because she is politically opposed to it and doesn’t believe it should pass. As Vice President of the Senate, she is the representative of an institution, and should not muddy an institutional process with her personal views, much less use her position to alter the outcome of a vote. “We want an institution that amplifies and guarantees rights for Argentines,” Sagasti continued.

The interior may be more traditional than the country’s urban hubs, but women and men still came out in droves to the provincial pañuelazos last night. There especially, social media has proven critical in the organization and implementation of pro-choice activism. Not only has it unveiled a progressive social movement in the nation’s more conservative provinces, but it has also helped to organize them and amplify their voices.

Keep the Ball Rolling

This showy pañuelazo, and the questions surrounding the future of abortion legislation, begs the question: Are pro-choicers worried that the chances of the bill passing diminish the longer we wait for a vote? Indeed, there is a great deal of momentum behind the movement right now, but what about a few months down the line? Will porteños still feel energized enough to show up to the steps of Congress on a chilly Tuesday night? Will green scarves ever go out of fashion?

Singing, dancing youth gather in front of Congress to demand a Senate vote “sin ninguna dilación”. (Photo: Chande Blurton)

Gabi Jimenez, a 22-year old university student at the pañuelazo last nightshared with The Bubble: “We’ve been already been waiting for years, so we can still wait a little longer. We can’t let this opportunity pass since we have already come this far.”