Governor leaves abortion in Legislature’s hands
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia has left in the hands of the Legislative Assembly legislation that will address the issue of abortion after the decision of the United States Supreme Court to annul Roe v. Wade.
“Basically what the Supreme Court has decided is that this issue has to be addressed at the state level and in our case here in Puerto Rico. The Legislature is called to take action on the abortion issue. Our Constitution also applies. Basically, what the Supreme Court decision indicates is that at the level of the United States Constitution the right to abortion is not going to be protected, but it allows the states to address the issue based on their own constitutions and their own laws,” the governor said at a press conference on Saturday. “If anything characterizes me, it is that I always try to find a balance. This is a very sensitive issue, it must be dealt with in a prudent and reasonable manner. Right now there is a bill before the Legislative Assembly that has already been approved by the Senate and passed into the hands of the House.”
The House leadership recognized that it should carry out a process of public hearings to discuss the pending bill in greater detail, the governor noted.
“And I see that as a good thing,” Pierluisi said. “Now, this decision of the Supreme Court affects the debate.”
“And it certainly justifies taking action on this matter at our level, at the level of Puerto Rico,” he said. “So that is what I can say, that the legislative process of the measure that is pending in the Legislative Assembly continues and in due course, if that measure is approved by both bodies, then it will come to my office, and I will make my decision. And as I said before, I am going to ask for the recommendations of my work team, including the secretaries of Health and Justice. And I’m going to look, like I said, for a balance. Here we have to respect each other. It is obvious that there is a diversity of opinions and positions on this issue, but we have to find that fair balance and respect each other and therefore also enforce our Constitution.”
The governor said the island Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in the Pueblo v. Duarte case, which establishes that no person who has an abortion can be criminally prosecuted, prevails in Puerto Rico at the moment.
“But this matter must be addressed by the legislative branch and I am going to count on the advice of the secretary of Justice as well as the secretary of Health to make my decision when any legislative measure reaches me,” Pierluisi said. “But it is inevitable that it will be legislated now that we do not have the decisions of the Supreme Court governing what we do.”
The alternate spokesman in the Senate for the New Progressive Party, Carmelo Ríos Santiago, anticipated that Senate Bill 693, which places restrictions on abortion after 22 weeks, will end up as a different bill. He also anticipated a wide-ranging discussion on the subject.
“That discussion is going to take place and there is going to be a variation of the bill that we know today,” the lawmaker said. “The bill that was approved in the Senate is not a bill that prohibits [abortion], it is a bill that regulates.”
“The 20 years that I have been in the Senate shows me that there is possibly going to be what is known as a substitute [bill] because when the door opens, well, that process is already advanced and I would not be surprised if the House opens hearings and a new bill arises within what has already been approved, with versions about [the length of] gestation to what is the balance that we have to have,” Ríos Santiago continued. “And we are going to decide that in a very broad conversation. I suppose it will last for months, at least. In the end, then, we will have the consensus of what is our reflection as a society. But the important thing is that here each and every one of the visions has a space. We live in a democracy and it is going to be the people of Puerto Rico with their opinions, with their civil lobbying, that are going to establish what will be the guidelines for us as a society. That is the important thing that we want to express today.”
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said Sunday that the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not affect local jurisdiction so the department will not prosecute either women or health care providers over abortions.
“As I have said, Article 98 of the Penal Code of 2012 permits therapeutic abortion done by a doctor duly authorized to practice medicine in Puerto Rico with the intention of conserving the health or life of the mother, and meanwhile, in the case the People v. Duarte Mendoza, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court interpreted that all abortion prescribed by a medical doctor directed at the conservation of the physical or mental health of the mother is exempt from legal responsibility,” Emanuelli Hernández said.