Argentina Senate thwarts abortion rights effort

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Argentine Senate's refusal to legalize abortion in that South American country has dealt a setback for the time being to the effort by activists to expand the right to the lethal procedure internationally.

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The Senate defeated in a 38-31 vote Aug. 9 a bill that would have permitted elective abortions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Argentina currently prohibits abortions, although it allows exceptions when the life or health of the mother is threatened or the pregnancy is the result of rape. Argentina's Chamber of Deputies had approved the legislation in a 129-125 vote in June.

The setback for the international abortion rights movement came less than three months after Ireland's citizens voted by a two-to-one margin to rescind a constitutional amendment that had protected the legal rights of unborn children and their mothers equally. The Irish government reportedly will seek to enact a measure that would permit elective abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The vote in Argentina did not gain as much news coverage as that accorded to the Irish referendum, but it served to stymie what the abortion-rights movement hoped would be the beginning of a "sea change in reproductive rights" -- as The New York Times described it -- in Latin America.

Only four countries in Latin America permit abortions without restriction, according to a 2018 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). They are Cuba, French Guiana, Guyana and Uruguay. Demonstrators supporting the Argentine proposal rallied the day before the Senate vote in Chile, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay, according to The Times.

"We are grateful the Argentine Senate pushed back the international effort to target unwanted babies in the womb," said Daniel Darling, vice president for communications of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "While the pro-abortion lobby might see them as clumps of tissue or fetuses, we know that God has knit each baby in the womb. He knows their name.

"Thankfully, there are heroic leaders in Argentina who see what the pro-life movement sees: The humanity of unborn children. Let's pray that this kind of pro-life success is repeated around the world," Darling told Baptist Press in written comments.

"Argentina has embraced life despite huge international pressure to give up existing legislation protecting life and freedom of conscience," said Neydy Casillas, international senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a written statement. "Every human life is valuable. As a society, we should support all pregnant women, especially those in difficult circumstances. Argentina's Senate affirmed this support."

In the aftermath of the vote in Argentina, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) pledged to continue its work to expand abortion rights to more countries.

"[W]omen will not retreat," said Giselle Carino, the IPPF Western Hemisphere region director, in a written release. "Tens of thousands of women organized, mobilized, and took to the streets to support this bill, and their courage [has] inspired activists across Latin America to share their stories and take on the stigma that too often keeps abortion care out of public discourse. We stand firmly and in solidarity with all women until forced pregnancies become a thing of the past -- until all women are treated as equals."

In addition to Latin America, much of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia provides at least some protections for unborn children, while liberal abortion policy dominates in Europe, North America, Australia and most of Asia, according to CRR.

The United States can play an important role in the international battle to protect unborn children, said Stefano Gennarini, director of legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights in New York City.

The Trump administration should turn the Mexico City Policy into a "multilateral initiative" that would establish a partnership between the United States and other countries that would provide health care "to mothers and children without promoting or performing abortion in any form," Gennarini wrote in a Feb. 14 piece for Public Discourse, a publication of The Witherspoon Institute.

The Mexico City Policy -- first implemented by President Reagan in 1984 -- prohibits international family planning organizations from receiving federal funds unless they agree not to perform or counsel for abortions or lobby in order to liberalize the pro-life policies of foreign governments. On his third day in office, President Trump reinstated the policy, which had been repealed by President Obama.

Also, the pro-life movement should press the United States and other countries to be more assertive in opposing "sexual and reproductive health" policies that aid the international abortion business, Gennarini said. "The end-game is to eliminate abortion from [United Nations] policy altogether."

While no international right to abortion exists, the U.N. agreement that includes that statement also "legitimizes abortion and translates into political and financial support for abortion groups," Gennarini wrote. The pro-life movement cannot be satisfied while that compromise exists, he said.

Only the United States "can supply the political will and impetus to end abortion," Gennarini wrote. "International policy on abortion must change. And it can change in one of two ways. Either abortion will be taken out of [U.N.] policy altogether, or it will be enshrined as an international right."

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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