Bills to Expand Access to Abortion Debated in Peru and Argentina

Pro-choice activists took to the streets in Argentina and Peru this week to show support for two bills to expand access to safe and legal abortion in their countries.

In Argentina, for the first time in three years, Congress debated the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill in the Lower House’s Penal Legislation Committee Tuesday. The National Campaign for the Right to Safe, Legal and Free Abortion has presented this bill to Congress five times since 2007, but this is the first year it has been debated by a committee (the first step in getting a bill passed). The bill would legalize abortion in the first 12 weeks, without exception, and require public facilities to provide the service free of charge. Additionally, the bill would legalize abortion past 12 weeks in cases of rape, fetal malformation, or when the health or life of a woman is at risk. Congress agreed to debate the bill in late September following the Campaign’s demonstrations in front of the National Congress building on the Day of Action to Legalize and Decriminalize Abortion. (Pictured above, members of Congress speak in support of the bill at a September 28 Day of Action event.)

The bill, which is supported by almost 70 members of Congress, was discussed for over four hours yesterday with approximately 30 speakers issuing heated opinions on the topic. Marta Alanis, founder of IWHC partner Catholics for the Right to Decide — Argentina, spoke in favor of the bill. The group stated that as Catholic women and feminists, they affirm the moral capacity of women to make life decisions with autonomy and freedom of conscience.

As the debate concluded around 10 pm, Patricia Bullrich, President of the Commission, announced that the Commission would not be able to issue an official opinion as they lacked a quorum. Without what is referred to as a “positive opinion” from this Commission (along with two other commissions on health and on family), the bill cannot proceed to a full debate in Congress. The meeting ended without setting a date for the next debate, but some members are calling for a new meeting to be held on November 11. The Commission’s goal is to issue an opinion before the year-end.

Also on Tuesday, a debate began in the Constitutional Commission of the Peruvian Congress to legalize abortion in cases of rape.  While abortion is legal in Peru to save the life and health of a woman, it is criminalized if the pregnancy is a result of rape. The bill was brought to Congress with a citizen’s initiative that had over 80,000 signatures. On the first day of the debate, supporters provided public health, legal, and human rights arguments to support the initiative, but the Commission did not issue an opinion. The Justice Commission, whose opinion is considered the most important, will also debate the bill. The two commissions needs to issue ‘opinions’ -either positive or negative – before the bill is voted on by the full Congress. The debates and vote must happen within 120 days.

An estimated 4.4 million abortions occur annually in Latin America, 95 percent of which are considered unsafe. Clandestine abortions lead to maternal death and morbidity, especially among poor women. Expanding access to the right to safe and legal abortion—in Argentina, Peru, and throughout Latin America—is long overdue.

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