Argentinian Doctors Are Protesting Abortion Legalization & It Shows How Contentious The Issue Is

ByMonica Busch
Jorge Saenz/AP/Shutterstock

Although there has been considerable progress over the years, in most corners of the world, abortion remains a divisive, contentious topic. This remains the case in Argentina, where even some doctors are protesting legalizing abortion procedures. Like anywhere else where the topic is debated, Argentinian doctors against the procedure argue that they believe they would be complicit in ending a human life.

As of now, abortion is only legal in Argentina in circumstances of rape, or when there is a severe risk to a pregnant woman's health. The doctors demonstrating in Argentina this week are protesting a bill that would legalize abortions up to 14 weeks of gestation. That bill already passed in the government's lower house on June 14, albeit by a slim, four-vote majority. Even then, the successful vote only took place after 22 hours of debate, NPR reports.

While the AP reports that one of the groups protesting, "Doctors For Life," represent only a small fraction of physicians currently practicing in Argentina, that small group of protestors appear to reflect beliefs held by a significant portion of Argentina's elected officials.

"New legislation could end a vicious circle where women have no option but to risk their lives, their health, and their freedom if they are sent to prison," Mariela Belski, Amnesty International Argentina's executive director said in a statement at the time. "Classifying the legal termination of a pregnancy as a crime has no basis in international law." Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among international NGOs supporting abortion legalization in Argentina.

Medical professionals and organizations that oppose legalizing abortion also have issues beyond just ethics, however. Some have expressed frustration that only individual medical providers would be able to opt out of providing the procedure, as opposed to entire medical facilities, AP reports. Other critics have taken issue with a part of the bill which would potentially require doctors who refuse to perform abortions to register as such, which they believe could, according to AP, result in their being professionally "blacklisted."

There are not any up-to-date reports that indicate how many abortions are performed in Argentina each year, though Human Rights Watch (HRW) points to Health Ministry statistics that show unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal death in the country. Per AP, the Argentina Medical Society endorsed the bill, arguing that it would help decrease the maternal mortality rate as it relates to abortion. By their estimates, between 400,000 and 500,000 women undergo secret abortions annually.

An other aspect of the proposed law that doctors have taken issue with, according to the AP, is that it would require abortion procedures take place within five days of a woman making a request for one. These medical providers are concerned that doctors could face prosecution under the timeline requirement if they are unable to perform the procedure immediately, and especially so if the delay is the result of a medical concern, not a moral concern.

"Doctors can’t work under the threat of prison time,” Maria de los Angeles Carmona, head of gynecology at Eva Peron Hospital, told AP.

It's not currently clear whether the bill will make it through the Senate. If it does, however, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said that he will sign it into law, even though he does not personally support abortion access. France 24 reports that Macri instructed legislators to use their conscience when deciding how to vote. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.