Argentina Rejects Liberalized Abortion Laws

Activists against the legalization of abortion demonstrate outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires / Getty Images

Senators in Argentina voted down a bill Thursday that would have legalized abortion on demand until week 14 of a pregnancy.

The legalization bill cannot be debated again until 2019, although some advocates of removing abortion restrictions have suggested promoting a bill for decriminalization as an alternative, according to CruxThirty-eight senators voted against the legislation, while 31 voted in favor, with two abstaining and one absent.

Abortion is currently a criminal offense in Argentina except in cases of rape, risk to the life of the mother, or when the baby is thought to be inviable outside the womb. Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri, who personally opposes abortion, said in March he would allow the country’s Congress to debate the proposed legalization legislation.

In the months leading up to the vote, advocates of legalization lobbied aggressively for the bill.

Adolfo Rubinstein, Argentina’s health minister who has argued for legalization, attempted to present abortion as a health emergency publicly by stating unsafe abortion is the country’s leading cause of maternal death. The claim is belied by the health ministry’s own statistics, which showed that in 2016 about seven times as many women died in childbirth as compared to abortion. Amnesty International proceeded to publish an ad in the New York Times using the misinformation touted by Rubinstein.

Groups supporting legalized abortion also threatened to burn churches prior to the vote. In response, the government sought to protect church buildings by, for example, barricading the cathedral in Buenos Aires as well as other churches in the capital.

Over 600,000 opponents of legalization rallied over the weekend with support from many Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders. The mostly-Catholic country is also home to Pope Francis, who has called abortion the "white glove" equivalent of Nazi eugenics programs.

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated on the day of the vote, with police separating the pro-life and pro-abortion rights campaigns. After the vote, pro-life demonstrators set off celebratory fireworks while some supporters of legalization lit fires and threw rocks at police officers, according to the Times.