A historic vote for Argentina
29th January 2021
A monumental vote occurred in the Palace of the Argentine National Congress in Buenos Aires on the 30th of December 2020. This vote legalised the act of abortion in Argentina. Before this, abortion was allowed only under two stipulations; where the women’s life or health was in danger or when the pregnancy was a result of the rape or an assault against a mentally disabled woman. The passing of this law allows abortion under any circumstances up until the 14th week, but will also be legal after that time in cases of rape or health issues with the mother. This bill extends to anyone who can become pregnant, regardless of gender orientation. This means that Argentina is the largest country in Latin America to legalise abortion. However, it has been a long road.
History of abortion in Argentina:
Argentina first criminalised abortion in 1880 with the introduction of a penal law that categorised abortion as a crime with no exceptions. This was in place until 1922, when three exemptions were written into law. These were; where the pregnant woman’s life or health was in danger, where the pregnancy was the result of a rape, and where the pregnant woman was mentally disabled. The next amendment occurred during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, and further reduced availability by adding ‘grave’ danger to a women’s lives and in the cases of rape, stated that criminal proceedings needed to be in place. Once the dictatorship fell, the abortion bill was reverted to the 1922 conditions. Since 1984, the abortion law in Argentina has remained unchallenged, resulting in roughly 30 deaths-per-annum due to lack of access to safe abortion.
The campaign for change:
Pro-choice activists have been campaigning tirelessly for the past 30 years in order to improve access to abortion. The battle has been long. In 2018, the same abortion bill had been passed by the lower house of congress but failed at the senate level of government. This was largely due to the Catholic church putting immense pressure on senators to vote in line with Catholic teachings. Argentina is the birthplace of the current Pope, Pope Francis. Nonetheless, the senators who voted ‘no’ in 2018 did so in opposition to public opinion. The issue of reproductive rights became an important consideration for many voters in the 2019 Argentinian elections. Mauricio Macri, a conservative politician that opposed abortion rights, lost the presidential race to Alberto Fernández, who centred
his campaign around promises to bring reform to the abortion laws in Argentina. Although a Catholic himself, Fernández stated that the issue of abortion was a “public health” issue instead of a morality issue.
“1,532 Argentinian women have been imprisoned over the last 8 years on charges related to abortion.”
Green versus blue:
Opinions around abortion are often highly divisive, and Argentina is no exception. A feminist movement, nicknamed the ‘Green Wave’, campaigned tirelessly to ensure reproductive rights were at the forefront of political debates. For the Green activists, December 30th is a celebration of years of work. For them, the passing of this bill meant that women finally had bodily autonomy and the freedom to choose. This relief could also extend to the 1,532 Argentinian women who have been imprisoned over the last 8 years on charges related to abortion. Human rights lawyers hope that this bill will grant these women clemency, if they had been imprisoned on the grounds of miscarriages and stillbirths.
However, there is an opposing movement in Argentina that is just as passionate. ‘Pro-Life Argentina’ is a group that has adopted blue as their colour, and limited access to abortion as their moral standpoint. For the pro-life group, December 30th was a devastating loss. Those campaigning to revert to the 1984 laws argue that this decision is against Catholic teachings and that every foetus should be born. To do otherwise, they believe, is murder and should be punished accordingly. Pro-life activists have said that they will continue to campaign, perhaps just as passionately as the Green Wave did after their 2018 loss.
What comes next?
The abortion law was officially signed into law by President Fernández on the 7th of January 2021. However, the fight is not over yet. The ties that Argentina has with the Roman Catholic church may impede access to abortion. Anti-abortion groups such as Unidad Provida have pleaded with healthcare professionals to refuse requests to perform abortions. They have even gone as far as to offer payment of legal bills that this may incur. As of yet, it is hard to tell if healthcare professionals will adhere to the Hippocratic Oath or the teachings of the Catholic church.
Featured photo by Thayne Tuason