Argentine President Alberto Fernandez announced Tuesday he was bringing a new bill on legalising abortion to Congress, re-opening a debate that has bitterly divided the traditionally Catholic South American nation.
The announcement set off celebrations among thousands of people outside the Congress building rallying in support of a plan to impose extra taxes on the wealthy to subsidise Argentina’s creaking health care system.
Fernandez made the announcement in a video message on his Twitter account, saying the bill would ensure “that all women have access to the right to comprehensive health care.”
Argentine society is deeply divided over the question of abortion.
Following years of demonstrations, Congress began a historic debate in 2018 under then-president Mauricio Macri that ended with the Chamber of Deputies voting to legalize abortion, only for the Senate to reject it.
Fernandez promised in March to present a new bill to legalise abortion but that was put on hold when the country went into lockdown over the coronavirus.
Fernandez, who ousted Macri in elections last year, said a separate bill would help poorer families to avoid having to resort to abortion for economic reasons.
That would provide “a 1,000-day insurance policy, with the aim of strengthening comprehensive care during pregnancy and for children in the first years of life.”
In Pope Francis’s homeland, abortion is punishable by up to four years in prison, and allowable only in cases of rape or if there is a risk to the life of the mother.
Lawmakers began debating on Tuesday the imposition of a two percent tax on more than 9,000 of Argentina’s largest fortunes, expected to provide more than $3 billion for health care and other projects to help families hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
Argentina has more than 1.3 million coronavirus infections, and more than 35,000 deaths from the disease.