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Is Argentina About to Legalize Abortion?

If the bill passes, Argentina would become just the third country in Latin America to provide unmitigated access to abortion.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Activists hold up green headscarves during a demonstration outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires, on November 18, 2020,.
Activists hold up green headscarves during a demonstration outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires, on November 18, 2020,. JUAN MABROMATA/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Argentina considers an abortion legalization measure, the European Council meets as the Brexit negotiating deadline is pushed to Sunday, and President-elect Biden names Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative.

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Lawmakers in Argentina Consider Historic Abortion Bill

Lawmakers in Argentina will consider legislation today on whether to legalize abortion as President Alberto Fernández attempts to make good on a campaign promise.

Abortion is a fraught issue in the country and in Latin America in general, where only two other countries—Cuba and Uruguay—currently allow abortions to take place without extenuating circumstances such as rape and danger to the mother being considered. Nevertheless, activists in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia are also pushing for greater abortion access.

That today’s bill has been presented by the president shows how far Argentina has come on the issue in such a short time. An abortion bill failed in the country’s Senate in 2018 in a 38-31 vote. Back then it did not receive support from then-President Mauricio Macri, who nevertheless said he would have signed such a bill.

A promise kept? Fernández made abortion rights a key part of his inaugural address in March, and promised to send a bill to legislators within days—only for the coronavirus pandemic to derail his agenda. Argentina’s pro-abortion grassroots movement, identifiable by its members’ green handkerchiefs, has continued to push Fernández on the issue, culminating in today’s vote.

Public outrage. Although there is a strong anti-abortion movement in the largely Catholic country, shocking headlines have crystallized the debate and it has become a major issue for young voters, as Ana Ionova reported in Foreign Policy last year. In February 2019, the case of an 11-year-old girl who gave birth via C-section after she had been raped caused outrage. The girl had asked for an abortion but her procedure was repeatedly delayed as authorities attempted to identify the girl’s guardian.

If today’s vote is successful, the bill will head to the Senate where supporters will be hoping that history does not repeat itself. A report in the Guardian says that the senate could pass the bill “as soon as next week.”

The abortion doctor. Back in 2016, FP profiled Germán Cardoso, an Argentinian gynecologist who for years has defied the country’s abortion laws, offering abortions to any woman who seeks one in his hometown of Tandil. “Women are going to have abortions,” Cardoso said. “If a doctor doesn’t do it, someone else is going to.”

What We’re Following Today

European Council meets as Brexit deadline pushed back. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not reach a deal on fisheries or other outstanding disputes while dining on a symbolic menu of scallops and turbot last night in Brussels.

They agreed that EU and British negotiators could hold further talks until Sunday, the final deadline to reach a deal on the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU. Von der Leyen will brief European Union heads of state and government on the issue at a European Council meeting today. With the prospect of a no-deal outcome becoming more likely, the commission is set to release plans on how the bloc will prepare for the new landscape on Jan. 1.

Akufo-Addo reelected. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo prevailed in a tight election contest against his predecessor John Mahama, according to official results. Akufo-Addo, won with 51.6 percent of the vote, while Mahama took 47.4 percent. Although the election was largely peaceful, police reported five deaths and multiple people injured in election related violence.

Biden chooses Tai as USTR. President-elect Joe Biden has named Katherine Tai, the top Democratic trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative, according to reports. A longtime Democratic staffer, Tai speaks fluent Mandarin and brought several trade disputes against China before the World Trade Organization during her time in the Obama administration.

Keep an Eye On

FDA meets on Pfizer vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hosts a public meeting today to discuss whether to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The meeting comes as Canada approved the vaccine on Wednesday, and as the United Kingdom enters its third day of a nationwide vaccine rollout. Even if the vaccine gets approved, getting enough Americans to take it may be an uphill battle. An AP-NORC poll found that although 47 percent of those polled said they would get vaccinated, 26 percent said they wouldn’t. Black respondents scored highest in their rejection of the vaccine, with 40 percent saying they would not take one.

Capriles advises opposition to move on. Venezuelan opposition figure Henrique Capriles has called on the Venezuela’s interim government led by Juan Guaidó to abandon its plan to continue as an organized force following legislative elections earlier this month. Venezuela’s opposition parties largely boycotted the vote, allowing the ruling Socialist party to win easily. Capriles, who twice ran for president, said the opposition plan to assert their legitimacy even after its five year term expires on Jan. 5 sets a dangerous example that could provide an opening for President Nicolás Maduro. “It’s a very complicated precedent for the future, because we open the door to Maduro saying that he will extend his government without holding an election,” Capriles told the BBC.

Odds and Ends

Stoli or Sputnik? Some Russians will have to choose between their habit and their health after a Russian official issued a warning on mixing alcohol consumption with the Sputnik coronavirus vaccine. Anna Popova, Russia’s top consumer health watchdog has advised those receiving the vaccine to refrain from drinking 14 days before getting their first shot, and to continue abstaining for 42 days after the final jab. Popova’s comments prompted pushback from the vaccine’s developer, who countered that a dry period three days before and after the jabs was sufficient.

Elena Kriven, a Moscow resident, outlined her dilemma to Reuters. “I’m unlikely to not be able to drink for 80 days and I reckon the stress on the body of giving up alcohol, especially during what is a festive period, would be worse than the (side effects of the) vaccine and its alleged benefits,” she said. Russia sits behind France as the country with the fifth highest alcohol consumption per capita, according to World Health Organization figures.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn