Despite the news last week that the bill to decriminalize and legalize abortion will most certainly be defeated in the Argentine Senate on Wednesday, continued flip-flopping from Senators means that the final result is still uncertain.
The latest Senator to put their vote in doubt is Neuquén representative Lucila Crexell from the Movimiento Popular Neuquino (Neuquén’s People’s Movement). The sole declared abstainer from tomorrow’s vote, she has proposed her own version of the bill in order to find a middle ground between the pro-choice and anti-abortion sides of this fiercely-contested debate.
This follows the news on Sunday that Senator Silvina García Larraburu for Río Negro has changed her vote, becoming the only member of the Frente para La Victoria–PJ block to vote against the bill. She said that after “several months of introspection,” she had decided the bill was “bad” and that the debate had been “a curtain of smoke.”
None of Neuquén’s three Senators – Crexell, Marcelo Fuentes, and Guillermo Pereyra – have pledged to vote against the bill, but Pereyra has previously said that he will suggest amendments to the current bill. These changes are expected to be similar to those proposed by Córdoba’s Senators, namely lowering the legal threshold for abortion from 14 weeks gestation to 12, allowing institutional conscientious objection, and waiving prosecution for medical professionals who refuse to carry out abortions.
The Senator told Río Negro that even if she were to abstain, she would be present in the debate. “When I stated my position on the legalization of abortion, I was clear that I would abstain if we did not find an intermediate and reasonable position that responds to the problem. Among the aspects that I don’t agree with in the provisional bill, one is that the healthcare system today is not in a position to provide everything that the law promises,” she said.
Crexell’s amended bill incorporates some of the changes proposed by her fellow Senators, seeking to lower the legal limit for abortion from 14 weeks to 12 weeks gestation. However, abortion would be legal until up to 14 weeks in two specific cases: if continuing the pregnancy represents a danger for the life or health of the pregnant person, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape.
Last week, Crexell was called out in an open letter from Neuquén gynecologist Gabriela Luchetti, who said that in this vote, “there is no place for abstention.” The letter, published in Anfibia magazine, pleads with the Senator to vote in favor of the bill, based on Luchetti’s personal experience in 30 years of medical practice.
She writes that even with pharmacological advances reducing the number of admissions to hospitals, “726 women were admitted to public hospitals in our province last year due to complications from abortion. Of these women, at least two were seriously ill in intensive care.”
She then continues, “I can tell you that last year, 1,832 women had an abortion outside of the healthcare system, with information and support from other women, and only 10 percent of these women were hospitalized. These figures show the prevalence of abortion in the region.
“To leave things as they are is to impede a public policy that will avoid more secrecy, hospitalization, damage, and death. It will not force anyone to have an abortion, but will respect the rights of all. The women of this province have abortions and will continue to do so.”
As if to prove her point, the news broke this weekend that a women had died in Santiago del Estero from complications arising from a clandestine abortion. 22 year-old mother of two Liliana Herrera died in hospital from a blood infection, the third such case in that specific medical facility this year.
Vení hoy a las 19 hs al funeral colectivo de #LilianaHerrera frente al Senado de la Nación. Queremos recordarles a las senadoras/es que #ElAbortoclandestinomata. #AbortoLegalparanomorir #SeraLey #8A pic.twitter.com/cfmYEdVeMS
— Periodistas Argentinas (@PeriodistasdArg) August 7, 2018
Teresa Santillán, a primary care physician from Santiago del Estero, told La Nación that these women “die from fear.” “It is because of fear that they don’t go to hospital in time. The same thing happened to María Campos, another women who arrived at the hospital to die. It’s the illegality that kills them, the fear of condemnation,” she said.
Whether Senator Crexell’s proposed bill was a reaction to Luchetti’s letter or not, sources from her office say that this new development does not represent a change of opinion, as the Senator was always firmly against the criminalization of abortion. However, this new development suggests that the Senator may break with her previous decision to abstain.
Even if the Neuquén Senator does modify her vote and express herself as in favor of the bill, this is still unlikely to change anything. A flurry of activity in the last week has seen the “against” camp pull ahead with 37 votes to 31, thereby surpassing the 35 needed to secure a majority.
It is possible that a future attempt to pass the legislation to legalize abortion would incorporate many of the proposed changes to make it more palatable for a decisively conservative Senate. However in this vote, it appears to be a case of too little, too late.