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.
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.
In the meantime, the federal government is considering decriminalization of abortion in the penal code. This 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.
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.
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