Activists in favour of abortion reform slammed the Mauricio Macri administration on Friday, describing a move to revoke a new protocol offering guidelines for non-punishable procedures as “arbitrary, illegitimate and shameful.”
Another explosive development in the debate over the legality of abortion kicked off Wednesday, when Health Secretary Adolfo Rubinstein updated the protocol for non-punishable abortions, only to have the changes revoked and anulled by President Mauricio Macri just hours later.
Rubinstein, it emerged later, had not sought approval for the change. The president, describing the official’s behaviour as “unilateral” and “wrong,” made it clear he did not support it. A few hours later, Macri was reading a resignation letter from the health secretary.
Published in the Official Gazette, the resolution detailed a new “protocol for the comprehensive care of people entitled to legal termination of pregnancy” (ILE), which recognised the right of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 16 to obtain an abortion without parental consent.
Under the new guidelines, they would enjoy protection from legal action against them. Current Argentine law states that anybody who seeks an abortion and anyone who provides it can be jailed, unless in the case of rape or bodily harm to the mother.
The guidance was based on recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) determining that pregnancy at this age poses an inherent risk to the emotional and physical of the child-bearer.
“[The protocol] made medical practices possible relating to minors that’s based on advice and scientific evidence. It established that medical knowledge and would have established new judicial norms,” explained María Elena Ale, an activist and member of the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito NGO.
Rubinstein’s move was seen by many in the campaign group as a long overdue clarifying mechanism to the Civil and Commercial Protocol passed in 2015 that was intended to “safeguard” young mums and was intended to prohibit the “substitution of consent.”
Ele was quick to clarify, though, that the updates alone wouldn’t have satisfied activists and others like her.
“We are fighting for something different, for the right for women to voluntarily get an abortion safely. The change in protocol would have changed the landscape for future laws, but it would certainly not have been the panacea,” she told the Times in an interview.
Certain measures of the health secretary’s updates to the Official Gazette spoke to that limited scope.
For example, it stipulated that if a procedure involved an exceptionally high level of risk, parents or guardians would need to give their consent. If they refused to grant permission, however, it went on to allow for the right of health professionals to intercede and justify the abortion on health grounds.
The former health secretary – a member of the UCR-Radical wing of Macri’s ruling coalition – described the new proposal as “a great step forward to continue advancing towards the consolidation of rights and the protection of public health with equity,” in keeping with his vocal stance in favour of legalisation last year.
However, the official’s actions were met with outrage from the right.
“This resolution seems lamentable and clearly unconstitutional, spreading irresponsible cases of non-punishible abortion,” said Senator Federico Pinedo, the acting head of the Senate and a key figure of the Cambiemos coalition.
Dina Rezinovsky, a lawmaker, joined him in calling for Rubinstein’s resignation. The Catholic Church also got involved, harkening back to the institution’s powerful influence in the 2018 fight in Congress.
After a few hours, Macri gave a direct order to annul the protocol.
“We reject this decision by the president as arbitrary, illegitimate and shameful,” read a statement in response from the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito.
Some in the so-called ‘green’ movement — the colour of the legal abortion movement — saw the move as capitulation to powerful external factors.
“There was no confusion. This was a political decision. Rubinstein’s always been progressive in his ideas, far ahead of this government, which has actively worked against our interests,” said Eugenia Ferrario Articulante, from the Socorristas en Red Feministas que Abortamos en la Campaña Nacional.
Macri remained fairly quiet during the battle in Congress last year, clearing the way for the vote but then only gently nudging his members to “vote with their conscience.” But, during this year’s presidential campaign, he said he was against abortion reform.
“This is just another example of how easily the political class falls to pressures from the outside,” Ele added.
President-elect Alberto Fernández recently announced that he would push the legalisation of abortion “as soon as” he takes office next month.
On Friday, outspoken La Plata archbishop Héctor Aguer said he should be excommunicated, should he advance on abortion reform.