ROME – On May 25, voters in Ireland approved lifting a constitutional amendment barring abortion. Argentina’s pro-life movement, on the other hand, is racing against the clock to pull off what would be an historic result in the opposite direction.

The Chamber of Deputies in Pope Francis’s home country is expected to vote on a bill to widen permission for abortion on June 13, but as of Thursday, the “yes” vote in chamber appeared to be several votes short of even tying those opposed.

On Wednesday, over 400,000 signatures against widening abortion rights were presented to deputies, alongside 70,000 in favor. An interreligious day of “prayer and fasting” under the slogan, of “Save them Both,” meaning mother and child, was organized on Thursday with the participation of Christians, Muslims, African Argentinian worshippers and representatives of the Cosmovision of Originary Peoples.

A pro-life rally has been convoked for this Sunday at a national level.

Where the debate stands right now

From April 10 to May 31, after Argentine President Mauricio Macri opened the doors for the debate on abortion, some 700 people on both sides have spoken in the Chamber of Deputies to try to convince the members of their positions.

As of Wednesday, however, according to the coalition of pro-life NGOs “United for Life,” there were 109 members in favor of a bill that would legalize abortion on demand until week 14 and beyond when the pregnancy is a result of rape, the child has malformations (including Down Syndrome) or if the mother’s physical, psychological or social health is at risk.

On the opposite side, 130 deputies were against the bill, most favoring a second project that would provide both prevention and assistance for mothers going through an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

Only 17 are currently undecided, which would mean that unless those who are against the bill change sides, it won’t go forward.

However, several changes introduced to the bill on Thursday might change the landscape, since they address some of the most extreme measures opposed by deputies planning to vote against the initiative.

Those steps include:

  • Introducing conscientious objection rights, although health centers would still have to guarantee they have personnel for the procedure.
  • Girls under the age of 16 would need parental consent for an abortion, considered unnecessary for girls over 13 in the original proposal.
  • Allowing abortions due to malformation after the 14th week only if they make life unviable outside of the uterus.

Those in favor of the bill rallied on Monday, with thousands carrying the green handkerchiefs that have become their emblem. Technically, that rally was to protest against gender violence, as part of a “Not One [Woman] Less” campaign, or Ni una Menos in Spanish.

The movement originally defined itself as a “cry against chauvinistic violence,” and was born in 2015 as a grassroots initiative after the murder of 14-year old Chiara Paez, killed by her boyfriend with the help of his family because she refused to have an abortion.

Yet several feminist organizations have turned it into a pro-abortion rally, against the will of Verónica Camargo, Paez’s mother, who’s explicitly said she’s pro-life and so was her daughter.

“Girls suffer violence and pressure from the men who don’t want to own up [to their responsibility],” Camargo said during an address to Argentina’s Deputies. “That was the case of Chiara and her baby.”

“I feel bad when we relate Not One Less with abortion, I feel uncomfortable, because if we say #NotOneLess, the baby is also one less. We must also defend that life. I had a grandson, and no one will make me forget that Chiara was murdered because she wanted to defend her baby,” Camargo said soon after, in a video that has gone viral on social media and was picked up by the country’s major newspapers.

In that video, Camargo is seen with Jimena Aduriz, the mother of Ángeles Rawson, who was murdered in 2013 by her building’s doorman.

On Facebook, pictures and videos of the participants at Monday’s rally showed women with their torsos uncovered chanting slogans such as, “If Jesus was a woman, abortion would be legal,” and leaving behind graffiti in the streets such as “no more Downs, legal abortion now.”

Journalist Marta Dillon, one of the founders of the Not One Less movement, gave a comprehensive interview to Infobae, defending her pro-abortion rights stance.

“What we are demanding is sovereignty over our bodies, autonomy over our decisions, access to a sexual freedom that is always threatened by the problem that you can get pregnant” when you have sex with a man, she said. “Abortion would put an end to all of that.”

In Deputies, pro-life didn’t mean religious

Even though many of those who spoke to the chamber were Catholic, only a handful of the presentations made reference to God.

On the pro-life side, most came from doctors, who defined the beginning of life as conception, and judges, who said Argentina’s constitution states that human life must be protected from the moment it’s conceived. There were also people such as Camargo and Javier Walter, whose grandmother wanted to force her 15-year-old granddaughter to have an abortion.

Instead, she decided to continue with the pregnancy and give him up for adoption. A German immigrant, Haydeé Walter, who was passing through the northern region of Formosa, one of the poorest of Argentina, adopted him with the help of a priest who knew of the case.

“I understand them, all the women who are in a situation like this,” Walter said addressing the deputies. “We cannot judge them, we must embrace them, help them.”

Talking later on a TV program, he added: “My grandmother Sara was destroyed for having wanted to abort me. She lived with that burden for over 30 years. Imagine the guilt of a woman who has had an abortion.”

Despite the fact that there was only one bishop, Gustavo Carrara, and one priest, Jose Maria “Pepe” Di Paola, who spoke to the deputies, one politician, Romina Del Pla, denounced “pressure” from the Catholic Church to “continue imposing its positions.”

“We’ve lived so far with the domination of clericalism over legislation,” she said Tuesday. “The obscurantist and medieval institutions never spoke against violence against women.” She also said that she’s against conscientious objection, something that could prove problematic if the bill were to pass, as thousands of doctors have already stated they would not participate in abortions.

One deputy, Lucina De Ponti, said the discussion wasn’t over “yes or not to abortion,” but rather “clandestine abortion or legal abortion.” She claimed there’s inequality in access because “rich women have abortions, poor women die.”

Regarding “clandestine abortions” in Argentina, there are no official statistics, though those supporting the bill say there are some 350,000 to 500,000 a year, not too far from the total number of 700,000 children born yearly.

Some of those in favor of the law spoke of abortion as the main cause of maternal death in the country, in an attempt to present the cause as a “health emergency.”

Among them was the country’s health minister, although statistics from the very ministry he leads were used in an effort to refute him. In 2016, 245 women died of causes related to motherhood. Of them, 31 were because of abortion, including clandestine abortions and legal ones performed in hospitals.

According to Ernesto Beruti, head of the obstetrics wing of the Hospital Austral, one the country’s two leading hospitals, if there are a half million abortions in Argentina and 31 women die as a result, maternal death due to clandestine abortion would be less than 0.0080 percent making it “the safest [medical] intervention on the planet.”

What’s to come?

Before the critical June 13 vote, two rallies under the slogan of “Save them Both” will be held, one at a national level, on Sunday, with organizers in over 100 cities confirming parallel rallies. Another on the 13th will held only in Buenos Aires, in front of the Argentine Congress. A parallel rally in favor of expanding abortion rights is also expected.

If the forecast of United for Life is wrong and the proposed bill is approved in the Chamber of Deputies, the pro-abortion rights campaign will still face an uphill climb based on initial polling among members of the senate. However, if the tables were to turn there too, Macri has already said that despite his personal opposition to abortion, he would not veto a law.

After some members of his party, Cambiemos, recently took a picture with the green handkerchief of the pro-abortion rights campaign, Vice President Gabriela Michetti is rallying those within officialdom who oppose abortion for a second picture.

She said in March that Macri opened the possibility for the debate, but there’s no official stance from the government other than freedom for the discussion to occur. Personally, she said, “You can’t choose between one life or the other.”