ARGENTINA – The debate on the president’s abortion law reform bill is due to begin

The debate on the abortion law reform bill was scheduled to start on 1 December, but a 20-hour budget debate seems to have postponed it. There was a live videoed debate online on 1 December with some members of the congress and others, including some religious figures, health professionals and NGOs. Both anti-abortion and safe abortion supporters participated. It is too early to say what will happen today (2 Dec) as this is being sent out before Argentina wakes up.

When he tabled the bill earlier this month, President Fernández said: “The criminalisation of abortion has been of no use, it has only allowed abortions to occur clandestinely in worrying numbers. The debate is not saying yes or no to abortion. Abortions occur clandestinely and put the lives and health of the women who undergo them at risk. Therefore, the dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system.” He also said that the objective with this long-awaited law is to stop accusing and prosecuting people who interrupt a pregnancy. He wants abortion to be part of the public health model that makes the State responsible for guaranteeing the practice.

The following clauses are all part of President Fernández’s abortion bill, most of which were also contained in the 2018 bill that almost passed:

  • Women and those with other gender identities who are able to get pregnant have the right to decide to terminate a pregnancy within 14 weeks of gestation.
  • Abortion is also legal after 14 weeks if the pregnancy is the result of rape or if the life or health of the pregnant person is in danger.
  • Abortion care in the public and private health system is guaranteed to those who wish to abort.
  • The termination must be carried out within 10 calendar days from the date it is requested.
  • Post-abortion care must be provided even if the abortion was not or would not have been legally authorised.
  • The written informed consent of the pregnant person is required before the abortion takes place.
  • No judicial authorisation is required.
  • Those under 13 years of age can give consent with the assistance of a parent or legal representative. Those aged 13 to 16 can consent on their own, unless the procedure to be used could involve a risk to their health or life, which is not usual because almost all terminations of pregnancy up to 14 weeks are done with pills and are ambulatory and low risk. If it involves a risk, it will be necessary for a legal representative to give their consent. For those over age 16 consent to treatment is the same as with adults. The law also contemplates provisions for people with restricted capacity, giving them the greatest possible autonomy of decision-making.
  • The bill contemplates a prison sentence of three months to one year for a pregnant person who aborts after 14 weeks of gestation apart from the permitted grounds. It also states: “This penalty may be waived when circumstances make the conduct excusable.”
  • The bill contemplates a prison sentence of three months to one year, and disqualification for twice the length of the sentence, to any official, health establishment authority, health professional or personnel who “unjustifiably delays, obstructs or refuses, in contravention of current regulations, to perform an abortion in legally authorised cases”.
  • Individual health professionals may exercise conscientious objection, but not institutions. Women must be referred for care that is provided elsewhere.
  • Additional requirements include: dignified treatment, quality treatment, respect for privacy and confidentiality, respect for autonomy and decisions without subjecting the person to “judgments derived from personal religious or values considerations”, and access to information.
  • Information, comprehensive sexual education and access to effective contraceptive methods must be provided to prevent unintended pregnancies. Health personnel must be trained on the new law. They and teachers and public officials who may be involved in abortion processes must also be trained to “provide adequate care, containment and follow-up to those who request” an abortion.
  • The country’s local authorities must implement the Comprehensive Sex Education law, 2006.
  • A separate but complementary bill to provide care for mothers and their children during pregnancy and the first three years of the child’s life, as a kind of complement to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, called the ‘Thousand Days Programme’. This was tabled in March 2020.

This may be the first abortion law reform bill to criminalise the refusal to provide a legal abortion.

SOURCES: France24, by Natalio Cosoy, 21 November 2020 + PHOTO, by Natacha Pisarenko/AP, 28 May 2020 ; France24, by Andrea Amaya, 18 November 2020