SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Powerful Puerto Rican lawmakers are joining conservatives in continental U.S. states to try to impose tougher restrictions on abortions, alarming feminist and other groups on the island.
A recently introduced bill would ban abortions from 22 weeks, or when a doctor determines a fetus is viable, with the sole exception if a woman’s life is in danger. This roughly matches most U.S. state laws, though more restrictive than Puerto Rico’s current statute, which sets no time limit.
The ruling comes at a time when a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has been heavily speculated that it could overturn or weaken the constitutional right to abortion recognized by the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade.
Women’s groups and others have also complained about the lack of public hearings before the bill is approved.
Some were further angered when Jose Luis Dalmau, president of Puerto Rico’s Senate and the opposition People’s Democratic Party, said last week that those who abort a viable fetus are “murderers”.
While many polls show majority support for abortion rights in many or most cases in the continental United States, there are signs that the opposite is true in Puerto Rico: recent polls are rare, but a 2017 survey by Pew Research found that about three-quarters of people in Puerto Rico opposed abortion in all or most cases – a much higher percentage than among Puerto Ricans living on the mainland. American.
Smaller, more recent surveys by local media suggest public opinion has not been much of an influence. And leading politicians from Puerto Rico’s two main parties seem to see benefits in appealing to anti-abortion beliefs.
Raúl Cotto-Sierra, professor of political philosophy at the University of Puerto Rico, said the People’s Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party are trying to win back the conservative supporters they lost in recent elections to newer parties. such as Project Dignity, which ran a Christian platform and pledged to implement abortion restrictions.
Senator Joanne Rodríguez Veve, a member of this party, is one of the authors of the current abortion bill. She is joined by Dalmau and Senator Thomas Rivera Schatz, former Senate Speaker of the New Progressive Party.
If Puerto Rico lawmakers approve the bill, they would join a growing trend by US states to restrict abortions.
Forty-four US states have thresholds on abortions, many at fetal viability or in the range of 20 to 24 weeks. And last year, 19 states enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions, the highest total since Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research organization that supports abortion rights. The most recent occurred on Tuesday, when Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled House approved a bill that makes abortion in most circumstances a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Puerto Rico’s Senate was scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday, but instead sent it to the Life and Family Affairs Committee following criticism of the lack of public hearings. Rodríguez, one of the senators who sponsored the bill, oversees this committee.
“It’s a real threat we face,” said lawyer Amárilis Pagán, executive director of the Mother Project, a nonprofit group focused on helping women. “We need to align our forces to be able to fight this.”
The committee is expected to hold public hearings this month and send it to the Senate for a vote. If passed, it will go to the House of Representatives.
The senses. Dalmau, Rivera and Rodríguez issued a joint statement implying that they do not expect the hearings to influence positions: “Some believe or imply that holding public hearings would change the minds of those in favor or of those who oppose the measure. Time will tell us.”
Their supporters include activist group Women for Puerto Rico, which said the bill could help boost the island’s declining birth rate and argued that fetuses at 23 weeks had survived.
The territory of 3.2 million people recorded a total of more than 3,700 abortions in 2020, down from 4,200 in 2018, according to the latest government statistics. Health officials say about 99% of abortions in Puerto Rico are performed before 22 weeks.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi did not join the debate, saying he is the only one favoring public hearings “so that we can get input from all parties, including medical criteria. We have to be careful in this case , and that must depend on as much analysis as possible.”