Moving Closer to the Legalization of Abortion in Argentina

The feminist movement is about to achieve a historic conquest in Argentina. After years of struggle and social debate, President Alberto Fernandez has announced the introduction of a bill for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. It adds to the bill of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion (which has already been introduced eight times and was first debated in 2018), and would legalise abortion in Argentina.

At Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Choose), we have witnessed firsthand the growth of the ‘green wave‘. The movement convenes activists across generations and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal structures to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Green Wave Reaches Congress 

Photo by Natalia Roca

We have actively participated in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion since its founding. Early pioneers would collect signatures in city squares to support the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill that they themselves had written. Today, young women march with the green scarf of autonomy over their bodies.

It was a long time before the bill was discussed in Congress. And though it was finally rejected by the Senate, there was extensive debate. The green wave managed to consolidate a collective voice that continues to defend abortion as a matter of public health, social justice and human rights. We claim autonomy over our bodies as an unavoidable step towards full citizenship and the lay state as the fundamental axis for guaranteeing rights. 

As Catholic and feminist activists, we pose the need to remove religion from the heart of the debate.

By doing so, we can reveal the moral and religious background behind the arguments against women’s autonomy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has not held a unique position on abortion. Biblical texts have not included it as a central moral issue. Feminist theology gives us a broader vision that can help us to build more inclusive churches. It also enables us to guarantee the secularity of the state while taking into account the diversity of opinions and realities. Therefore, our view reflects the possibility of being women of faith and supporting the right to choose.

One of the phrases we have printed on our green scarves and T-shirts is: “Mary was asked to be the mother of Christ”. These are not just words. They signal an ethical position from which we consider the decisions women make throughout their lives. They call for attentive listening in order to defend the life and health of all those with the ability to gestate.

Abortion as a Debt of Democracy

In Argentina, interruption of pregnancy is currently legal only if the pregnancy is the result of a rape or the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger. However, there are still multiple barriers that force women to resort to clandestine, and often unsafe, abortions. These include: disparity in access to information and quality health services, professionals who present themselves as conscientious objectors, multiple inequalities that persist in our country, and moral and religious prejudices.

There are approximately 54 abortions per hour in Argentina. That’s 1300 per day and 520,000 per year. At least 3040 women have died from unsafe abortions in the last 30 years. During 2018, seven girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth per day. Every day we are faced with a critical scenario regarding the health of women and girls. The more time we take to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights, the more lives will be impacted.

Photo by Emergentes

What does the bill presented by the @CampAbortoLegal say?

1. It guarantees access to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. After the 14th week, it authorizes the procedures with no time limit or judicial complaint if a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in the case of rape.

2. It defines health according to the World Health Organization – complete physical, mental and social well-being – and defines the right to abortion as a human right. Abortion as a right must be included in the contents of comprehensive sex education, as well as in teachers’ training courses and courses for health care professionals. 

3. It guarantees abortion without distinction of origin, nationality, residence and/or citizenship of the person who requests it. People who are migrants in transit are included. Furthermore, the practice must be guaranteed within the five calendar days in which the abortion is requested. The person seeking the abortion must sign an informed consent form, and this must be the ONLY pre-requisite.

4. It guarantees access to information on abortion. This must be relevant, accurate, secular, up-to-date and scientific, in the language that the person communicates in and in accessible formats. The person may request counselling, but it is not mandatory.

5. It guarantees the right to abortion access for children and teenagers. In all cases, the best interests of the child must prevail. No person can be replaced in the exercise of the right to decide. All insurance plans, health care systems and prepaid private systems must guarantee the practice free of charge. This will be a Public Order Act and its implementation is compulsory throughout the territory of the Nation.

It Will be Law

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the infection, and we understand the need to give priority to the global health crisis we are currently facing. We also know that, sooner rather than later, we will achieve the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act in Argentina. Meanwhile, we will continue working and collaborating to get through this pandemic. Special attention must be paid to the impact of COVID-19 on women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable sectors of our society. We will continue accompanying those who need us, fighting for our rights, and building a world of justice. Together, we are making history. There is no turning back.

We are organized and we have political experience – accumulated over many years of struggle. Working together with a network of health professionals, lawyers, journalists and teachers, we have strengthened ourselves. We have developed response mechanisms to assist, guide and train people who need it. Our strength is collective and it is nourished by the intergenerational exchanges that have made this green wave possible. It is a green wave that fills us with pride.

Since 2018, when more than one million people flooded the streets, we have witnessed the growth of the movement, the intensification of social debate and the building of consensus that influences public opinion. We have no doubt that the right to abortion will be law in Argentina and when that day comes, it will find us together.

Photo by Emergentes

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.

Teenage Girls in Argentina Deserve Better

As multilateral organizations continue to research sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America, I’ve been learning many sad truths about my country.

This year, we learned that Argentina’s teenage pregnancy rates are the highest in the Southern Cone (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). It’s estimated that 109,000 teenagers and 3,000 girls under 15 years old give birth to a child every year. These numbers make up 15% of annual births in the country.

Most of these pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted. UNFPA’s latest study, The Power of Choice, shows that Argentina’s maternal mortality rates are also much higher than in the rest of this region. For every 100,000 births per country, 52 mothers die in Argentina, 44 in Brazil, 22 in Chile and 15 in Uruguay.

The results of this study have strengthened the call for inclusive sexual education, accessible contraceptives and the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina. 

Adolescent maternity rates are higher in communities living in poverty, where girls are also less likely to go to school or have access to healthcare and contraceptives. When a girl gets pregnant at an early age, she’s very unlikely to continue her studies, which perpetuates a circle of poverty for the girl and her family. She’s also less likely to survive the pregnancy and the birth.

Earlier this month, a 13-year-old girl had a baby in the Chaco province in northeast Argentina, where poverty and early maternity rates are among the highest in the country (according to UNICEF more than half of children under 17 years old in Chaco were living in poverty in 2016).

Her name has been kept secret, but her living conditions have shocked the country. She was malnourished, anaemic and had pneumonia, yet never received treatment for any of these conditions. She was living with an older man, her boyfriend, and wasn’t going to school.

When her 20-year-old aunt took her to the hospital for a fever, they discovered she was 28 weeks pregnant. The fact that this girl was pregnant for 7 months without knowing it…it’s hard to imagine how neglected she was. She had to have a C-section because of her extremely weak condition. The baby lived only a few hours, and the girl died less than a week later.

So many things went wrong for her.

The health system in the province went beyond failing her, because it didn’t even know she existed until it was too late. She didn’t have family to take care of her and the system did nothing. Her health was gravely deteriorating and the system did nothing. She was in an abusive situation and the system did nothing.

Her story breaks my heart. And it hurts me even more to know that she’s not the only one living like this and won’t be the last to end up like this. She deserved better. All of them deserve better. 

The Fight for Legal Abortions Continues in Latin America

450,000 clandestine and unsafe abortions take place in Argentina every year, according to Amnesty International.

Currently, Argentina only allows abortions in cases where a pregnancy is the result of rape, if the mother is mentally ill, or if her own life is at risk. On August 8 2018, Argentina came very close to legalizing abortion. The Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would have made abortions legal within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, with 38 votes against, 31 in favor and 2 abstentions.

On the streets, thousands of people gathered to show their support or opposition for the bill, divided in two different sides in front of the Congress building.

It was a disappointing result for many women, not just within the country but in Latin America as a whole. Activists planned demonstrations in support of the legislation in several countries like Mexico, Chile, Peru and Uruguay – as well as around the rest of the world too, like in New York City.

Photo credit: Maria Rendo

Currently in Latin America, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and Mexico City allow women legally to have early-term abortions. This means that 97% of women in the region live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances.

Since the bill in Argentina passed in the Congressional vote, similar projects to legalize abortions have been energized throughout Latin America. These movements have not been discouraged by the end result in Argentina this month. Right after the final vote in Argentina, a bill to legalize abortion was introduced in Chile, where abortions are currently legal only under 3 circumstances:  when the mother’s life is at risk, when the pregnancy is the result of rape, or when the fetus is non-viable.

Around the same time, Brazil’s supreme court began to consider decriminalizing abortion through the 12th week of pregnancy. Women wearing red robes resembling those worn on the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale gathered outside the supreme court to show their support for decriminalization. Meanwhile, the church sounded its bells as a sign of protest.

Argentine activists and lawmakers haven’t given up either. They are determined to introduce the bill again next year and make sure that this time, it goes through. Most of the Senators who voted against the law argued that it was too broad and missing relevant details that still needed to be debated. One example is the issue of parental consent when the pregnant woman is a minor.

Photo credit: Maria Rendo

In the meantime, the federal government is considering decriminalization of abortion in the penal codeThis wouldn’t give women access to safe abortions, but it would save them from the threat of being imprisoned as a result of an abortion. This is yet to be presented and debated, but it would do part of what the proposed law intended to do (leaving out the need for better sex education, access to contraceptives and safe abortions in hospitals and under the care of health professionals).

On a personal note, it was incredibly moving for me to have the opportunity to join the women who had gathered in front of Congress to show their support for the law. I saw women of all ages and all sectors of society together, supporting the same cause. The air was filled with hope and solidarity.

Photo credit: Maria Rendo

These women spent a cold night out in the rain, sharing umbrellas and blankets while they waited for the decision, encouraging each other even though they knew the law was very unlikely to pass. Their strength is what keeps this movement going, and it’s the reason this law will be approved, sooner or later.

If you want to support Argentinian activists, they have created The Young Feminist Fund for Argentina to support projects designed and led by young women’s rights defenders until abortion is legal in the country. You can find them on Twitter as @FondoFeminista.

Share their work and encourage others to donate!

Argentina’s Abortion Law is History in the Making

This month, Argentina reached a turning point in its abortion legislation. After years of campaigning by a coalition of organizations and activists, the law on legal, safe and free abortions was finally debated in the Lower House and, after almost 24 hours of debate, a bill that would decriminalize abortion up to the first 14 weeks of pregnancy passed.

The debate in the Lower House was extensive and controversial, just like the issue being discussed. The final vote was very close, with 129 votes in favor, 125 against and 1 abstention. The law has yet to be debated and voted on by the Senate, but the fact that it made it this far for the first time is already impactful. President Mauricio Macri has stated that he won’t veto the law if it passes in the Senate, even though he is personally against abortions.

The National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortions has a very clear mission:

Educación sexual para decidir, anticonceptivos para no abortar, aborto legal para no morir”, meaning “sexual education to decide, contraceptives to not terminate, legal abortions to survive”. Campaigners are asking for much more than the right to decide when to have an abortion. They’re asking for proper sexual education and for access to contraceptives so women can avoid having to make the decision of whether or not to have an abortion in the first place.

This vote was historical because of the level of professionalism shown by those who organized the vigil and online campaign for the day. In a country where protests tend to end in violence and the destruction of public spaces, it was moving to witness a peaceful vigil. It is estimated that around a million people joined in front of Congress to wait for the final vote count. While some people spent a few hours there and then went home, others stayed for the entire duration of the debate. They camped outside of Congress all night in the cold to show their support for this legislation. They even held a concert!  

People were well-prepared to campaign online, too. A website called Activá el Congreso (Activate Congress) was set up to make it easier for people to reach their representatives through phone calls or tweets to try to convince them to vote in favor. The website can now be used to help the general public contact their Senators and express their support for the law.

There was also an online map called Aquí Estamos (Here We Are), where Argentinians who weren’t in Buenos Aires at the time could check in to show their support. Today, the map says that 18,914 people checked in from different parts of Argentina, but also from across the entire Western Hemisphere and Europe.

It has been particularly moving for me to see that even in a deeply politically polarized country like Argentina, people from different political parties and ideologies can join together for a cause. People on social media were shocked to find they could agree on something with someone they had considered an enemy because of party alliances. At a time like this, when people are losing their faith in democracy and their representatives, I think it was good for the public to see that they can make their voices heard and actually influence a government’s decision. It was refreshing to be reminded that we have enough power when we make our voices heard.  

In fact, it was not only the Lower House that heard Argentinians’ voices – the rest of Latin America heard them too. This vote has had an impact on the rest of the region. Now, a week later, other countries like Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile and Peru are organizing similar movements and campaigns, inspired by the achievement in Argentina.

During the debate, I received messages from friends from some of these countries telling me how they wish something similar could happen in their home, both in terms of the effective organization of civil society and the fact that the bill passed in the Lower House.

This is a momentous step forward for women’s rights, and the feminist movement in Latin America is now saying, “if Argentina can do it, so can we!

Remembering Micaela García

Back in April, I saw on Facebook that one of my high school friends from Argentina was posting about a missing friend called Micaela García. Before long, my social media was flooded with posts from other people asking for information about her – asking if anyone had seen her recently or knew where she was. But my friends’ posts were the most shocking to me.

She knew Micaela. She wasn’t just helping look for a stranger, she was looking for her friend.

Micaela García was missing for an entire week before her body was found. She was an activist in the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) protest movement against femicides that emerged in Argentina in 2015 and spread across the continent all the way to Canada. Micaela was a part of the movement for years. She would travel from her home in the province of Entre Ríos to Buenos Aires every year for the Ni Una Menos march on June 3rd and would organize activities to raise awareness in March each year for International Women’s Day. She had dedicated herself to ending this violence yet ended up as a victim herself.

Micaela’s murder lead to protests for justice. Then it became public knowledge that her attacker had been jailed for nine years in 2012 for raping two women in 2010, but a judge had ordered his early release in July 2016 after he had completed only half of his sentence. The entire country was furious, and rightly so. Suddenly there were two men responsible, Sebastián Wagner and the judge that set him free.  

Wagner was sentenced to life in prison in October this year. It was too late for Micaela though. I don’t believe he should ever have been sentenced to just nine years in prison in the first place, never mind been granted early release. His victims shouldn’t have had to live knowing that their attacker would one day be released.

The case left a lasting impact in the country. Micaela’s loved ones created the Micaela García “La Negra” Foundation to continue her activism and volunteer work in Villa Mandarina, a low-income neighborhood where she would feed children, help them with homework, celebrate their birthdays, and participate in programs to reduce poverty rates and inequality.

There were also 13 laws proposed regarding violence against women, including sexual violence and femicides. They are known as the ‘Micaela García laws’ and they tackle both prevention and reaction. They are designed to help victims and their families recover physically, psychologically, and even economically. They also focus on improving the government’s attitude towards victims by trying to make employees in the public sector take courses on gender violence. Regarding the general public, these laws are trying to educate all people, no matter their gender, not to be violent towards women.

I’ve talked to my friend, Micaela Villa, about how losing Mica in this violent way has affected her. She says Mica had already inspired her to become involved in the Ni Una Menos movement, but now that femicides have reached her on a personal level, she is more committed than ever before:

“Gracias a la violencia de género perdí una amiga. Hoy en día no dejo pasar por alto ninguna situación que tenga que ver con la violencia, que capaz antes si lo hacía. Y desde lo profesional, como estudio derecho, para en el futuro ser una abogada con una mirada sobre la violencia de género, empecé a tomar cursos, leer libros, ir a marchas, etc. Pienso que es lo que Micaela hubiese querido, y yo lo quiero hacer por ella y por todas. Las que fueron y las que lastimosamente vendrán.”

(“Because of gender violence I lost a friend. Now I don’t leave any violent situation unattended, which maybe I was doing before. From a professional standpoint, since I study law, I’ve been taking classes, reading about the subject, going to protests, etc. so that I can be a lawyer with a gender perspective. I believe that’s what Micaela would’ve wanted, and I want to do it for her and for everyone. Those who were victims and those who sadly will be.”)

I hope that Micaela’s suffering won’t be in vain. Real reform needs to happen, both legally and socially.

Too many women and girls have suffered. Too many lives have been lost.

We don’t want to have to keep fighting for justice. We don’t want to be scared when walking alone or taking a cab. Micaela would be proud to see her loved ones continue her activism against violence against women. We’ll keep her in our hearts every time we march for her cause, our cause.

Because Micaela is all of us. #NiUnaMenos   

Latin American Women Take to the Streets

#NiUnaMenos, Not Even One Less

On October 19th, women all over Latin America took to the streets and protested for all the women missing today from gender violence. As a plea to governments for a better justice system, women of all ages wore purple and black in solidarity for the cause. What we were fighting against was a system that promotes violence by allowing femicide cases to go unpunished, among many other things.

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“We are the cry of those who no longer have a voice.” Photo: Caro Ruu

Women from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Guatemala stopped activities and marched together on a strike.  Those who could not leave their jobs, wore black head to toe. The movement exploded after October 8th, when Lucía Pérez, a 16 year old girl from Argentina, was brutally raped and killed.

 “Black Wednesday,” as the strike was named, was organized by 50 activist groups in Argentina, and quickly went viral. Through the hashtag #NiUnaMenos, (Not even one less), women all over Latin America marched not only for the femicides, but against a culture that views women less than men, a culture that goes beyond law and bails those who have perpetuated similar crimes.

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Unfortunately, this is not the first time women have marched against a system that protects the abuser. Last summer in Perú, women striked against gender violence not being a punishable crime. When men physically and mentally abuse their partners, it’s a process that becomes a burden for the victim and is often left unsolved by the authorities, leaving the woman and any children she has more vulnerable to further violence.

The feminist movement in Latin America, takes a special cry against the machista system and culture that we endure day by day. It is believed that a man who is “strong” is more attractive, so it is expected of him and his “temperament” to explode and be violent against their partner, or female population in general.

In Mexico, where I am from, we experience things from catcalling and harassing in the streets and public transportation, to facing trending topics that judge a woman about what she did at her bachelorette party, to the 70th femicide reported this year in Puebla, the 4th largest state in the country. It is now all so common, it is terrifying. They are killing us, raping us, abusing us, and our countries have done nothing about it.

Revictimization is something that women have to endure whenever they are harassed or abused. Most of the time, femicides won’t be filed as such because it takes a toll on the country or the state’s reputation and therefore tourism and foreign direct investment. Instead of calling it femicide, these crimes are only labeled “crimes of passion.”

Here is a look at a few numbers that show how women live among gender violence in Latin America:

  • In Argentina, domestic violence kills one woman every 36 hours.
  • In Perú, 50% of the population believes that if a woman is wearing a mini skirt, she is “stimulating” harassment.
  • In México, every 4 minutes a woman is sexually assaulted.
  • If you are Mexican, there is a greater possibility of you being raped or killed than getting cancer or AIDS.
  • In Argentina, the average time to report domestic violence is five years.
  • In 2015, Bolivia registered 93 femicide cases, but only three open cases had conviction.
  • México is the 2nd highest in the world for transgender killings.
  • The femicide rate in Brazil is the 5th highest in the world.
  • In 2015, in Chile, there were 45 femicides committed victims family members and 112 other attempts of femicide.
  • In Perú, 70% of the population justifies domestic violence in “certain cases,” especially in situations of infidelity.

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“No more trans-femicides.”

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So yes, we are fed up, we are angry, we are terrified. Whenever I see a woman, a person of the LGBTQ community, or a girl walking down the street, I hope they arrive home safely. I mourn for all the women and transgender women killed, and for those who are not here yet, who will be Latinas, and could become a part of these statistics.

Please, join us, march with us, ask your governments to pressure ours. Join the movement #NiUnaMenos on November 25th.

All photos by Caro Ruu. Additional photos can be found at The Common Girls.