Argentina’s lower chamber on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize abortion until the ninth month of pregnancy under certain conditions, would allow a pregnant teenager over 16 to obtain an abortion without the knowledge of her parents, and would force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions.
The bill now passes to Argentina’s senate, where approval appears uncertain. President Mauricio Macri, who’s said he’s personally against abortion, has announced he wouldn’t veto the measure if it were to pass.
Soon after Thursday’s vote, local bishops released a statement saying that the decision “hurts us as Argentines,” but vowed not to give up on their attempts to protect the lives of the mother and unborn child.
“The hurt for the forgetting and the exclusion of the innocents must be transformed into strength and hope, to continue fighting for the dignity of human life,” said a statement released by the bishops’ commission for Laity and Family.
The vote went 129 in favor of the abortion bill with 125 against, and one person abstained. It came after 21 hours of debate, during which time most informal counts had the “no” side slightly ahead until three legislators changed their minds.
Pro-lifers say they’re ahead in the Senate, but they also expressed the same confidence about the lower chamber.
In the statement released on Thursday, the bishops also said they will continue to proclaim the need for a legislative debate that includes “dialogue,” because “the situation of women facing an unexpected pregnancy, the explosion of poverty, social marginalization and gender violence remain without a solution.”
“We have an opportunity to look for new and creative solutions” so that no woman has to have an abortion, the bishops said, and they urged the Senate to develop alternative bills that can provide an answer to conflictive situations and that recognize “the value of every life and the value of conscience.”
A debate that turns into “an ideological battle,” they argue, “puts us farther away from the lives of concrete people.” Trying to impose an ideology or interest while quieting those of others, the bishops wrote, “reproduces violence in the fabric of our society.”
The bishops also offered a “mea culpa,” acknowledging that their “poor pastoral work” became evident during recent times. According to them, those failures include not teaching integral sexual education in Catholic schools, not recognizing the “common dignity of a woman and a man,” and not supporting women considering abortion or those who’ve had one.
The bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday is not the original proposal. Among the concessions offered to pro-life concerns is the fact that girls under 16 would need the consent of their parents or legal guardians to have an abortion.
In addition, pregnancies involving unborn children with malformations (including Down Syndrome) will only be allowed until week 14, while the previous bill contemplated the termination of these pregnancies until the ninth month. The change was made to address the fact that aborting babies with disabilities is to discriminate. However, by week 14 most women know if their baby might present difficulties.
The bill that was voted on also introduced personal conscious objections, but institutions won’t be allowed to do the same, so every hospital in the country would be required to provide “legal, free and safe abortion,” regardless if they’re public or private.
However, many of the other points pro-lifers objected to have remained, including article three, that says a woman can have an abortion until the ninth month if her pregnancy presents a risk to her “physical, psychological or social health.” The latter includes a break-up or being fired.
The same applies to women who conceived after being sexually abused.
Those defending the bill did so presenting it as a “health emergency,” claiming that thousands of women in Argentina die as a result of clandestine abortions. However, the national health ministry released statistics showing that just 43 women died as a result of an abortion in 2016, though this total also includes women who died from a miscarriage.
Three times as many women died of causes related to the delivery of their babies, the statistics showed, and some 67 died because of pre-existing conditions including diabetes or high blood pressure.