Monday 18 June 2018

Argentina Legalises Abortion, Victory for Women's' Rights

Written by Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, University of Bath and Lucía Cirmi Obón, National University of Quilmes

“Nothing will stop us now!” These were the words of the excited and emotional activists when Argentina’s parliament voted narrowly (129 votes to 125) to decriminalise abortion. The National Congress in Buenos Aires was surrounded by women wearing green scarves around their necks, heads and wrists. Since 2005 this has been the symbol of their campaign. It represents life and hope and evokes memories of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – a group of women whose children disappeared under the dictatorship in Argentina during the 1970s and 1980s.

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EPA/David Fernandez

It was in fact the president, Mauricio Macri, leader of a centre-right government who, under the pressure of feminist and social activists, suggested opening the abortion debate in his inaugural speech to parliament. Despite pressure from religious groups, he had to recognise that there was an increasing social awareness about abortion. Feminist groups were showing politicians that women and society were ready for a change.

Under the current regulations, women cannot have a legal abortion in Argentina. Exceptions are only very rarely considered in the case of rape or risk to the health of the woman. Even then, the ultimate decision lies with health professionals – and they can refuse to perform a procedure on the grounds of religious belief. Every year, hundreds of pregnant women die in Argentina because abortion is criminalised.

Clandestine abortion is the main cause of maternal mortality. According to the Ministry of Health in Argentina, there are 500,000 illegal interventions per year. In 2016, there were 245 maternal deaths, 43 of which were produced by illegal abortions. This was an urgent public health matter. Criminalising abortion has not stopped abortions from taking place. It has only increased the risk of self-harm and death.

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Women Spoke, Parliament Listened

This vote was preceded by weeks of discussions and presentations from experts, activists, politicians and the public to parliamentarians so that they could make an informed decision. The representatives went on to have hours of intense debate before passing the new law. This will legalise elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and in longer periods in situations that entail health risks to the pregnant person or in the case of rape.

There have been six previous attempts at passing this legislation. This time, the campaign group presented a petition to parliament, gathering signatures from 71 MPs from different political affiliations – enough to ensure that the matter would be debated in parliament.

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