Senators convened yesterday to discuss the future of the Abortion Bill, which looks to be facing an uphill battle. The number who have came out against the bill is now pegged at 36, exactly half of the Senate. However, many have expressed the desire not to reject the bill outright, but rather to introduce modifications to make it more palatable. They’re not exactly keen on the version that passed through the Lower House. Twenty-seven are calling it good-to-go—they support the bill as is—while nine have expressed a reluctance to share their opinion until the bill goes through Commissions.
What to Watch For: Biggest Points of Contention
1. Legalization versus decriminalization
The more conservative Senators do not want abortion to be legal, but have expressed a willingness to alter Article 88 of the Penal Code to reduce the maximum sentence given to a woman who receives an abortion to one year. However, legislators in this camp would likely not be in favor of modifying the original bill, but instead would introduce a new, alternative piece of legislation.
In fact, Federico Pinedo of the PRO party did just that. His proposal to decriminalize abortion (or, rather, reduce its criminalization) would let the courts take into account the age, motives, and the social situation of the woman in deciding how a criminal case would be carried out.
Other Senators have expressed a slightly more flexible view, espousing complete decriminalization, but not legalization, as the appropriate course of action. Rodolfo Urtubey (PJ-Salta) and Ernesto Martinez (Cambiemos-Córdoba) belong to this camp, which is still far-removed ideologically from the bill passed by the Lower House.
2. How far along into a pregnancy an abortion should be allowed
As is, the bill legalizes abortion up to 14 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. Of the Senators who have expressed a willingness to negotiate the terms of an abortion bill rather than rejecting it outright, some have expressed concern with this number, positing 12 weeks as a more reasonable timeframe. According to his comments to La Nación, Carlos Caserio (PJ) cites this issue as one of his numerous gripes with the current legislation.
3. Abortion in cases of sexual assault
This portion of the bill puts critics into roughly two camps:
(1) Those who dislike the “ambiguous language” that might be used to justify legal abortion past 14 weeks for women who are victims of sexual assault; and
(2) Those who believe that an affidavit from the victim is not sufficient to prove a sexual assault.
The most reluctant legislators, like Caserio, take a more hard-line stance and have introduced separate legislation that would change the Penal Code to adopt a 2012 Supreme Court Decision to eliminate the criminal penalty for sexual assault victims who sought abortion.
4. The burden on the public healthcare system and institutional objection
Some legislators from provinces which border other countries warn that their hospitals already receive many patients who cross over into Argentina to access free health services, and if the legislation were to pass, this burden would rise as women came seeking abortions. Other critics from the provinces suggest that the legislation should include provisions to allow institutions to deny abortion services on the basis of personal belief, since the interior tends to lean conservative. As passed by the Lower House, the bill prohibits the denial of services based on conscientious objection. Yet, several religiously-affiliated clinics and hospitals around the country are demanding this right.
#TucumanSedeProVida Un aspecto más para oponerse a la legalización del aborto:
El recorte más estricto de la libertad de conciencia individual y la prohibición total de la libertad de conciencia institucional.
— Wabit (@WabitRJM) June 28, 2018
On the other hand, following the Lower House vote more than 2,800 health professionals signed an agreement called #ContásConmigo (Count on Me), which states, “Our conscience demands that we not abandon those who need to abort, we respect their decisions without imposing our opinion, and we comply with the laws in place in a secular state that should value the interests of the people without imposing dogmas of faith.”
Más de 2800 profesionales de la salud de todo el país firmaron la carta ratificando su compromiso a respetar y cumplir los derechos de las mujeres. ¡Todavía estás a tiempo de sumarte!
Para firmar: https://t.co/LTMHcl7ELa pic.twitter.com/MTfL49BID0
— ELA (@EquipoELA) June 29, 2018
5. Access to abortion for girls 13-16 years old
The bill, as passed by the House, establishes that adolescents within this age, with informed consent, would be able to access abortion services. This proposal is backed by article 26 of the Civil Code, which talks about adolescents having the “aptitude to decide,” and the International Conventions on the Rights of Children, but has faced criticism in the Senate from those who support the requirement of parental consent for patients within this age group.
Lower House member Carmen Polledo summed-up this viewpoint well to a journalist in April, “a 13-year-old girl who can’t buy a beer on the corner will alone be able to ask for, without father or mother or mentor’s permission, an abortion.”
What happens if the bill is modified?
Both chambers of Congress must approve the same piece of legislation before it can be passed along to Macri’s desk and signed into law. Right now, the objections the the bill (as passed by the Lower House) are clearly numerous and varied. However, if the Senate agrees on modifications and passes a different version, the new piece of legislation would be sent back to the representatives for another vote. In short: it could be months before a final decision is made on abortion legislation. The Senate’s alterations must be made by August 1st, and the vote is scheduled to take place one week later.
In tallying up the projected votes, important question is the conditionality of the Senators’ decisions. Some legislators want changes to the bill before they’ll vote “yes,” some have expressed a willingness to vote on whatever can pass, others have proposed changes but seem hesitant to thumbs-up any type of abortion bill. It’s difficult to tell where individuals lie on that spectrum, which complicates any kind of vote forecasting.
“I don’t agree with the bill, I am going to vote against it.” Caserio told La Nación, despite his laundry list of desired changes. On the flip-side, Gladys González (PRO-Buenos Aries) has made it clear that although she is in favor of modifications, her vote is not dependent on them.
Will anti-abortion legislators be swayed by a few tweaks to the bill passed by the Lower House, or are they acting in the name of political expedience–appearing to entertain a debate that has been pushed forward via massive social mobilization? Are these modifications meant to be sincere improvements, or a disingenuous attempt to delay an unfavorable piece of legislation past the point of relevancy? Either way, the road to legal abortion is full of twists, turns, and obstacles in the weeks ahead.