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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Abortion bill is unconstitutional, Justice secretary says

Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández

By John McPhaul

Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said on Monday that the department he heads will testify against Senate Bill (SB) 693, which aims to regulate abortion.

“Our request is that the bill as it is written lacks specificity and is vague,” Emanuelli Hernández said at a press conference. “And we have made some suggestions that unless [the measure’s deficiencies] are corrected, that bill, from our point of view, is unconstitutional.”

Also on Monday, members of the National Campaign for Free, Safe and Accessible Abortion (Aborto Libre PR) expressed their total opposition to SB 693, which would restrict abortion in Puerto Rico after 22 gestational weeks.

“This has been a rigged and undemocratic process. Approving a bill that subtracts fundamental rights, that eliminates medical criteria and that endangers the lives of women and pregnant people without public participation, violates the most basic elements of democracy,” said Patricia Otón, a lawyer, public health professional and member of Aborto Libre PR, in a written statement. “The positive report issued by the Life and Family Committee, chaired by [Sen.] Joanne Rodríguez Veve, was biased in favor of bill 693. It rejects arguments based on law and science, and resorts to arguments that have been rejected by organizations and experts on the abortion issue from a wide variety of disciplines. For all of which, the report is deficient and unreliable; from Aborto Libre Puerto Rico we demand that the Senate bill be withdrawn and that citizen participation be allowed in spaces of respect for the diversity of opinions.”

“The feasibility determination is entirely medical and not a legislative matter,” said Mayra Díaz Torres, a public health worker, anti-racism organizer and member of Aborto Libre PR. “The proponents of the bill intend to practice medicine from their chairs and replace medical expertise with legislative expertise. The president of the Senate, José Luis Dalmau, branded women and pregnant people who resort to an abortion as ‘murderers.’ With his statements, Dalmau flaunts his ignorance, misogyny and contempt for the health of pregnant Puerto Ricans and his lack of diligence in his work as president of the Senate, as demonstrated in the lack of rigor in the legislative process. Measures, particularly those that restrict people’s rights, have to be open to public hearings where experts can contribute -- and support -- why they are for or against; such is the case with the right to choose.”

On Sunday, Dalmau Santiago, of the Popular Democratic Party, Dignity Project Sen. Rodríguez Veve and New Progressive Party Senate Minority Leader Thomas Rivera Schatz announced that SB 693 will go through a public hearing process in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Matria Project Executive Director Amárilis Pagán Jiménez said on Monday that the legislative process on the bill that would further restrict abortion has revealed “how fragile our democracy is.”

“We are at a historic moment for women’s rights,” she said in a written statement. “The entire legislative process of Senate Bill 693 has demonstrated how, when it comes to going after power, the parties negotiate our bodies, make us invisible and turn their backs on science and reason.”

“One of the points that we cannot ignore is that the content of Senate Bill 693 speaks for itself and should invite rejection,” Pagán Jiménez noted. “It is not only a question of deceiving the country by making it think that abortion is not regulated in Puerto Rico, but also an attempt to replace the medical criteria and the decision-making capacity of women with the subjective criteria of its proponents. They are trying to legislate above science and the fundamental rights of women.”

The right to abortion is a fundamental constitutional right protected by the right to privacy, which in Puerto Rico is stronger and broader than the right under the federal Constitution, the group said.

“We denounce the rush of the legislative process in relation to the Senate bill and we strongly repudiate the statements of Senate President José Luis Dalmau, who forgets that, as a public servant, he is called to serve the people, not to advance unconstitutional agendas that harm the lives of people with a uterus,” said Mayte Bayolo of the ACLU, who is also a member of Aborto Libre PR. “From Aborto Libre Puerto Rico we oppose SB 693; we demand that the Senate be diligent and not put personal interests above the life and health of the people. At the same time, we hope and call on the House of Representatives to distance itself from the actions of the Senate, respect the life and decision-making power of people with a uterus on the island, and respect democratic processes.”

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