BUENOS AIRES – The Argentinean Senate passed on Wednesday a landmark bill allowing voluntary termination of pregnancy up to the 14th week.
The legislation, which sailed through the house after a marathon session running until the early hours, was backed by the government of President Alberto Fernandez to fulfill the long-pending demand of feminist groups.
The bill was approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the parliament, on Dec. 11.
The motion was passed with a 38-29 vote with one abstention, after a session that lasted 12 hours even as thousands of protesters for and against the law gathered outside the Congress building to wait for the result.
“Safe, legal and free abortion is (now) a law. I had pledged to make this happen during the electoral campaign,” Fernandez tweeted.
“Today, we are a better society that widens women rights and guarantees public health,” he added.
The bill marks a radical change from the earlier law, under which abortions could be legally performed in cases of rape or risk to a woman’s life or health.
It allows health professionals to conscientiously opt out of performing an abortion, although in those cases they must steer the patient to another professional without delay.
After the result of the parliamentary vote was announced, the supporters of the green wave, the movement for legalizing abortion, gathered, shouting in jubilation.
The “pro-life” camp nearby reacted with anger and dejection.
It is the second time that a bill for legalizing voluntary abortion was debated in the Argentine Congress after a similar text was tabled in 2018 by a civil rights group that managed to get passed in the lower house but was rejected in the Senate.
A year later, Fernandez pledged to promote a fresh bill to expand abortion rights during his successful run to the presidency, saying his primary motivation was to reduce the number of clandestine abortions, many of which are performed unsafely and put the woman’s life at risk.
The successful passage of the bill, a result of political negotiations that helped it gain more support than two years ago, is an achievement for the president after a difficult 2020 marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the near-impossible task of taking the economy out of a serious recession that began in 2018.
The vote was expected to be tight or even result in a tie, and discussions to increase the support margin continued until the last moment, with the government agreeing to minor changes in the text.
In the end, some lawmakers who had been undecided or against the bill decided to vote in favor of the motion.
The bill had divided lawmakers across political formations such as the ruling Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front), main opposition alliance Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), and smaller groups.
Once the law comes into effect, free, safe, and legal abortions will be allowed during the first 14 weeks of gestation and must be performed by medical workers within 10 days of a woman’s request to terminate the pregnancy.
The procedure can be carried out even beyond 14 weeks in the case of rape and risk to the woman’s health.
Girls under 13 would be able to undergo the procedure if they provide their informed consent and have the support of at least one of their parents or a legal representative.
Meanwhile, those between 13-16 years of age would require parental authorization only if the procedure poses a health risk. All women above 16 would be able to decide on their own.
The law also fixes the state’s responsibility to provide comprehensive sex education to children and updates punishments for inducing abortion or consenting to this procedure after the 14th week of pregnancy.