Argentina is currently in the midst of a bitter debate over abortion, started after Argentine President Alberto Fernández introduced legislation that would legalize abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Currently, abortion is only legal in Argentina in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant person. Even under those circumstances, it can be difficult to find a doctor who would perform the procedure. Under the proposed legislation, doctors would still be entitled to refuse to perform an abortion, but they would be required to refer their patient to a doctor who would be willing to do the procedure.
The Washington Post reports that President Fernández actually campaigned on promises to make abortion “legal, safe, and free.”
“The debate is not saying yes or no to abortion,” he said last month. “The dilemma that we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system.”
Argentine Health Minister Ginés González García said last month that over 3,000 women have died in Argentina as a result of clandestine abortion procedures since the early 1980s—and that’s just the fatalities they know are abortion-related. Banning legal abortion never actually stops abortion, it only makes the procedure harder to get and much more dangerous for the patients.
Despite the strong base of support for legalizing elective abortion in Argentina, there is also a great deal of resistance in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. Argentina is also the home to Pope Francis, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to abortion, calling it an issue “of human ethics” last month. The last time Argentine lawmakers considered lifting the ban on abortions in 2018, the proposed legislation was passed in the House of Deputies, but failed in the Senate. President Fernández’s legislation is expected to also pass in the House, but faces a much more difficult fight in the Senate.
Activists and healthcare workers who support the legislation see it as a matter of bodily empowerment and saving people’s lives. According to lawyer and women’s rights advocate Soledad Deza, women who get illegal abortions in Argentina can end up in jail after getting the procedure.
“This happens all the time,” Deza said. “I have a case of a woman who was put in jail after she had a miscarriage. Another woman who had a curettage without any anesthetics, and after that, she was taken by the police.”
The debate over the legislation in the House of Deputies started on Thursday, and the Senate could vote on the legislation as early as December 28th.