Argentina, a conservative country with a long history of opposition to abortion and contraceptives, has just legalized abortion.
A Conservative Country Making Huge Strides
The bill, which decriminalizes abortions for pregnancies up to 14 weeks, was approved by the Senate this Wednesday with 38 votes in favor, 29 votes against, and 1 abstention. Many were surprised by the vote’s large margins, as it was expected to be a closer vote.
Argentina’s left-wing President, Alberto Fernández, submitted the bill. President Fernández has made it clear throughout his presidency that women’s rights and public health are a critical part of his government. His most recent push for reproductive rights has further proven his dedication to bettering the lives of Argentinian women.
The night of the Senate debate, hundreds of Argentinians took to the streets outside of the National congress. Women’s rights activists and anti-abortion demonstrators alike stood side by side throughout the night, waiting for the verdict. In the early morning, when the results were in, many rejoiced with music, dancing, cheering, and a release of emotions. For many Argentine women, this was a critical moment they had been waiting on for years.
The History Of Abortion In Argentina
Up until now, abortions have been illegal in Argentina. However, this didn’t stop women from seeking them out. In fact, roughly 500,000 illegal abortions occured in Argentina every year. This number is roughly 40% of all pregnancies in the country. These abortions are difficult to access and usually dangerous, which led to complications and sometimes death. In fact, unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of Argentina’s high rates of maternal mortality.
Previously there were only a few circumstances that warranted access to a legal abortion. These included when a pregnancy endangered the life of a mother and if a pregnancy was the result of a rape. However, even under these circumstances it was still often difficult and expensive for women to obtain legal abortions. Furthermore, those found guilty of participating in a clandestine abortion faced up to 15 years in prison.
The 2018 Argentine Abortion Bill
In 2018 the Argentine Senate narrowly rejected a proposed bill which similarly aimed to decriminalize abortion for pregnancies up to 14 weeks. The rejection of this bill not only continued the criminalization of abortions, but it also had huge negative impacts on the mental and physical wellbeing of many Argentinian women. Additionally, it disproportionately impacted women from lower income families, who already have limited access to healthcare and health services.
The New Legislation
The new bill passed by the Senate decriminalizes abortion for pregnancies up to 14 weeks. Additionally, it allows for termination of a pregnancy if it is the result of rape or endangers the mother’s health. It also permits for something called conscientious refusal, which is when all providers in a clinic are against providing an abortion. In cases of conscientious refusal, providers would be required to supply the woman with a referral to another clinic.
There is no doubt that the passing of this bill is a huge step for women’s rights in Latin America. This historic legislative win makes Argentina only the third South American country to legalize abortion. Many women are hopeful that the momentum they’ve built, both through grassroots organizing and now the legalizing of abortion, will continue and spread throughout the continent. The fight for women’s rights is not over, but many agree that this is a pivotal step in the right direction.