Months of impassioned public debate, colorful protests and determined counter-demonstrations are coming to a head today in Argentina, where the Senate is set for an historic vote on whether or not to legalize abortion.
The high-drama session comes nearly two months after the country's lower house opted narrowly — following a marathon, 22-hour debate — to approve the measure, which would allow women to legally terminate a pregnancy through the first 14 weeks.
The issue has divided the South American country, and even prompted a pronouncement by Argentina-born Pope Francis, who strictly opposes abortion. But polls suggest a slight majority in Argentina support legalization. And the bill's passage through the legislature has sparked a visible youth movement, as Buenos Aires-based journalist Irene Caselli writes for the German news service Deutsche Welle.
Only three nations in the region allow abortion without restrictions.
The supporters' symbol of choice is a green bandana marked with the words: "Sexual education to decide, contraceptives to prevent abortion, legal abortion to prevent death."
Today's vote has major implications for Latin America as a whole: Only three nations in the region — Cuba, Guyana and Uruguay — allow abortion without restrictions, and several, including Nicaragua and El Salvador, have blanket bans, meaning women are barred from terminating pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk.
Neighboring Chile had a no-exceptions ban until just last year but still outlaws abortion in "normal" circumstances. During a pro-abortion demonstration held in Santiago late last month three women were stabbed by hooded attackers, Chilean news sources reported.
The pending decision in Argentina has also drawn attention in Colombia, which allows abortion only in cases of rape, if the fetus is deemed non-viable, or if the mother's life is at risk. An editorial in today's El Espectador, nevertheless, urges the Argentine senate to vote in favor of legalization.
Whatever the result, society will have won.
"The continent as a whole is waiting for abortion to be made totally legal and cost-free in the southern nation," the Bogotá daily writes. "Here's hoping the legislators listen to the popular outcry from the people wearing green bandanas."
In Argentina, observers say that regardless of how the vote plays out, the pro-abortion movement has forever changed the terms of debate. "Whatever the result … society will have won," columnist Diana Baccaro writes in the Argentina daily Clarín. "Either because the senators vote well, or because the Argentine people vote better in next year's general elections."
"What does it mean for the senators to vote well? That they do so free of passions and pressures," Baccaro adds. "The only voice they should be listening to Wednesday in the Senate is their own conscience, because that's what will help build a democratic society."
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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