Latin America has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. Not only does the anti-abortion Catholic Church continue to exert a profound influence on public life, most major political parties also maintain a hard line on the issue. And so for more than 97% of the 345 million women living in the region, abortion is almost always illegal, as well as unsafe. A bill in Argentina was looking to change that.
Argentine senators voted against legalizing abortion in all cases on Thursday, August 9th, just weeks after the bill was passed by the lower house of Congress in June by the narrowest of margins. The Senate voted 38 to 31 against the proposed measure. President Mauricio Macri had said he would sign it if the Bill was approved by the Senate.
The vote came as a major setback to the hundreds of thousands of pro-choice advocates who ran an aggressive campaign against strong opposition from the highly influential Catholic Church in the homeland of Pope Francis.
The Catholic Church held masses during the Senate's vote and had called on Catholics to protest against abortion. Earlier, Pope Francis said the deliberate termination of pregnancy was "an atrocity" and compared it with Nazism.
Argentine law guarantees protection for life from the moment of conception. Abortion is currently allowed in cases of rape, or when the mother's health is at risk. Pro-abortion advocates cite The Health Ministry estimated report in 2016 that as many as half a million abortions are performed illegally in the country each year, causing the deaths of dozens of women. The bill would have legalized abortion in all circumstances during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Uruguay and Cuba are the only countries in the region to have fully decriminalized abortion. Of the 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, only Communist Cuba, one area of Mexico and tiny, progressive Uruguay allow elective abortions up to 10, 12 and 12 weeks respectively. Six countries—Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname—have a total ban on abortions.
Women in the rest of the region, including in Argentina and Brazil, are allowed to terminate pregnancies only if they have been raped, if there is a risk to their life or health or in cases of fatal fetal abnormality. Even in these circumstances, human rights experts say women can still struggle to obtain an abortion because of barriers such as a need for judicial authorization or difficulty in finding a doctor who will perform an abortion.
During the debate, conservative Senator Mario Fiad called abortion a “tragedy” and said he opposed the legislation, arguing that it was “unconstitutional”.
As Christians, we must base our life and our faith on God’s Word. A child in the womb has individual and unique chromosomes. In the moment of conception the zygote has full personhood, the same genetic makeup that it will carry outside the womb and for its entire life. The Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic has said “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” Early human embryos are often described as “merely a ball of cells,” and for many, it is difficult to imagine that something that looks more like a bag of marbles than a baby could possibly be a human being. Fundamentally, this argument asserts that human life is worthy of respect depending on appearance.
LifeSite reports: At thirty days after conception, the heart is forming and pumps blood throughout the body, eyes are developing and the baby has budding arms and legs. The baby has a brain and has multiplied in side ten thousand times. At forty days, the baby’s brain waves can be recorded and their heartbeat can be detected by an ultrasonic stethoscope. Their skeleton is formed and their brain is controlling the movement of muscles and organs.
By eight weeks hands and feet are almost perfectly formed. The nine-week baby has “already perfected a somersault, backflip and scissor kick.” The unborn child responds to stimulus and may already be capable of feeling pain. By ten weeks the child squints, swallows, and frowns. By eleven weeks he urinates, makes a wide variety of facial expressions, and even smiles. By twelve weeks the child is kicking, turning his feet, curling and fanning his toes, making a fist, moving thumbs, bending wrists, and opening his mouth.
All this happens in the first trimester, the first three months of life. This is no mere clump of cells—this is a living, growing human being.
Although abortion has been legal for decades in the U.S., it is refreshing to know that many countries still hold a biblical view of the issue. The victory in Argentina is a big step for the pro-life movement, paving the way for these laws to stay in place for many years to come.