Deadly abortion pressures in Argentina
The country becomes the largest in Latin American to legalize abortion
María Inés Franck avoided wearing blue for most of December. The president of the Latin Foundation for Culture in Argentina sometimes passed green-clad pro-abortion demonstrators on the streets of Buenos Aires, and she feared the color of the country’s pro-life movement would unnecessarily provoke them. But she wore blue the night of Dec. 29. Franck, her colleagues, and other pro-life friends stayed in the square outside the congressional building to hear the results of the Senate vote on the bill to legalize abortion. Until 4 a.m., they greeted friends, ate mozzarella cheese pizza, and watched the hourslong debate on the large screen in the square. “It was like a show,” said Franck.
But she didn’t expect the show to have a happy ending. It didn’t surprise her when 4 a.m. arrived with the announcement that the Senate had passed the bill with a vote of 38-29. The pro-abortion demonstrators in green cheered and danced, but Franck said she and her friends felt angry. Pro-lifers in Argentina blamed the legalization of abortion in the majority-Catholic country on monetary pressures from international groups. The COVID-19 pandemic only intensified the financial strain.
The lower house had passed the bill 131-117 following a debate that continued into the early hours of Dec. 11. Argentine President Alberto Fernández sponsored the measure legalizing abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy to fulfill a campaign promise he made before his election in 2019. Previously, Argentina only allowed abortions if the pregnancy resulted from the rape of a mentally disabled woman or put the mother’s health at risk. During an address to the nation in March, Fernández said the bill would be in Congress within weeks, but the pandemic delayed the debates.
Financial reasons may have also pushed back the introduction. One political lobbyist speculated in October that pro-abortion lawmakers might wait until after the United States election. That outcome would determine how much money international abortion organizations could expect to receive from the U.S. government. Immediately upon entering office, President Donald Trump cut funding to international organizations that provide the procedure. A Biden administration would likely renew those funds.
“They have this international monetary pressure and political pressure to pass the law,” Franck said. “And that isn’t new. That is constant.”
She said the same incentives existed two years ago, when the Argentine Congress considered another bill to legalize abortion. Although the bill passed the lower house with a narrow margin, the Senate rejected it. Both the 2018 and 2020 legalization attempts came during Argentina’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, a group with a history of pressuring poor nations into legalizing abortion.
While most people in the capital city may favor legalization, Franck said the new legislation does not reflect the majority view in the more traditional and family-oriented Argentine provinces. A 2020 poll found that, although almost 56 percent of Argentines support abortion in certain exceptional cases, less than 23 percent support the kind of elective abortion proposed in the bill. Franck said President Fernández had to push senators from the conservative provinces to get enough votes to pass the bill.
External and internal financial leverage came on top of economic suffering that only intensified as spring lockdowns increased poverty and unemployment. In October, international data showed that Argentina had the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests in the world. Doctors from the area blamed the high rates on a lack of testing and poorly executed safety measures. President Fernández likely hoped fulfilling his pro-abortion campaign promise would reinvigorate his disillusioned supporters.
Franck said the pandemic should have been a reason to wait on the bill. She fears the bill will pave the way for other countries to legalize the killing of unborn children too: “The international pressures that … we are suffering, all of the countries in Latin America are suffering from the same pressure.”
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