Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

Now they see us: abortion in Argentina will be legal

Argentina is moving towards the decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion, and the two million people who took to the streets to protest the results ensured its only a matter of time before it triumps. Español

Pro-abortion demonstration in Santa Fe, Argentina. Wikimedia Commons.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on Nexo and can be read here

Argentina is moving towards the decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion. Although the Senate rejected the recent draft bill that passed through the Chamber of Deputies, the two million people who took to the streets to protest the results that were present throughout the five months of debate ensured its visibility.

Their efforts give one the feeling that triumph is only a matter of time. This year Argentina was spread across the front covers of international papers due to the courage that being one of the few countries in Latin America to take on the abortion debate in Congress requires.

Only Cuba, Uruguay, French Guyana and Puerto Rico recognise the women’s right to abortion, along with Mexico City.

The photos show two vigils overflowing with people, the first on the long night of the 13th of June when the project would finally receive approval from the Chamber of Deputies the following morning, and the next on the 8th of August when the draft bill was voted on in the Senate.

These gatherings give us an idea of the scale of this new movement, which arose after a long process throughout which key milestones can be marked. The Commission for the Right to Abortion was founded in 1988 and the members barely made it to a dozen.

The Commission for the Right to Abortion was founded in 1988 and the members barely made it to a dozen. Among them were Dore Coledesky and Laura Bonaparte, historical figures from the group the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line. 

Among them were Dore Coledesky and Laura Bonaparte, historical figures from the group the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo-Founding Line. The Commission shows the convergence between the fight for human rights and feminism shortly after democratisation in Argentina.

Another significant moment for the region was the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Forum that took place in San Bernardo in 1990.

In one of the meetings, women from different countries debated abortion and decided that the 28th of September would be the Day of the Fight for the Decriminalisation and Legalisation of Abortion in Latin America.

The date is significant and was proposed by a group of Brazilians who already commemorated the day of ‘Free Wombs’ on this same day, first sanctioned in 1888. This event was to be considered a symbol of female sovereignty over their bodies.

“Freedom of the womb. Freedom of slaves. Legalisation of abortion. Freedom for the woman to decide”. The story of the fight for abortion in Argentina and its international character can be explored in the book by queer feminist activist Mabel Bellucci, A story of disobedience. Abortion and feminism. 

In 1992, the Commission presented for the first time a draft bill on contraceptives and abortion. The strategy was to bring to light the problems that illegal abortion caused and to show the legality that already existed in other countries during similar periods throughout which there was limited information circulating regarding the matter.

This project was the precursor to that which was presented in 2007 under the name of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, with the tagline “sex education to decide, contraceptives to not have to abort, abortion to not have to die”. 

 In 2015, the mobilisation under the movement ‘Ni Una Menos’ saw the feminist movement grow in a way that changed the public agenda of the nation.

Despite this tenacity of feminist activism, until recently the possibility of legalising abortion in Argentina appeared dismal. In 2015, the mobilisation under the movement ‘Ni Una Menos’ saw the feminist movement grow in a way that changed the public agenda of the nation.

The National Women’s Forum, that has been carried out every year since 1986, doubled its invitations that year and it grew off new found support from around 300 organisations that today reaches the 500 mark.

The CELS is one of these human rights organisations that is a part of the National Campaign. Among the legions of activists are also hundreds and thousands of youths from secondary schools throughout the nation that defend their right to decide. 

This year, the pressure from growing street mobilisations surrounding the rights of women, lesbians, and the trans community forced Mauricio Macri to provide an indication that the debate could progress to the Congress.

The National Campaign presented a draft bill for the 7th time, accompanied by thousands of activists donning their green bandanas, symbol of the Campaign and the fight for freedom and autonomy over our bodies.

What appeared to be a utopic demand up against the force of the permanent alliance between the church and sectors of the state, began to become a reality.  The fight for this right is decades old, but the massive feminist demonstrations bring to light what is happening on the streets of Argentina: “now they really see us”.

The debate in Congress also showed that society advances forward more so than many of its legislators. 

Raising awareness of cultural and legal inequalities in which women and trans women find themselves echoed through interparty alliances within the Chamber of Deputies as well as the Senate, with shared strategies by representatives that are in the antipodes in other agendas.

The debate in Congress also showed that society advances forward more so than many of its legislators. The main obstacle in both chambers was the tension between personal beliefs and public responsibilities of the deputies and the senators.

We witnessed the use of anti-abortion strategies that can be observed across Latin America, some of which can be explored specifically: the bogus use of international human rights law, the justification of a rejection founded upon “scientific” knowledge (that there is life from conception) to disguise religious arguments, a nationalistic defence and accusations of foreign interests intervening in internal affairs, the supposed false interference of the Nation in provincial arrangements, and the high impact it would have on the cost of the national health care system in spite of evidence of the contrary.

The process left certain obligations of the state unaccomplished and the outcries from international organisations were triggered.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights requested that Argentina revise the current legislation that appeared discriminatory, such as the criminalisation of abortion and the lack of access to health services for women who decide to terminate their pregnancies.

The UN Working Group Against Gender Discrimination, the Committee that evaluates the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee for the Elimination of Gender Discrimination and the Committee for Human Rights have positioned themselves in a similar vein. 

The Congress was gradually becoming more resistant at dealing with the issue, and together with the other powers of the state it preferred an approach of denial and to remain absent at any declaration that abortion is a matter of public health.

In the light of the rejection of the project by the Senate, there are cultural, organisational, and legislative deficits. Out of the 7 draft bills that the National Campaign for the Right to Legal Abortion has presented since 2007, in 2014 the bill was debated by a legislative commission and did not obtain a judgement.

The Congress was gradually becoming more resistant at dealing with the issue, and together with the other powers of the state it preferred an approach of denial and to remain absent at any declaration that abortion is a matter of public health.

This year, for the first time, the draft bill took to the parliamentary stage and achieved approval from one house. In public hearings in both chambers, transmitted live with a significant coverage in the press, society was able to listen to more than 1000 specialists from different backgrounds.

From there a wide consensus against the criminalisation of women and trans women that abort developed and it is expected this will have an eventual effect on the penal system. The tide of intergenerational, heterogeneous and coalescent activism regarding a common agenda on abortion does not appear to be slowing down.

Every nation of Latin America followed the debate as though it was their own, due to the international links that characterise the feminist movement and due to the effects that this step forward represents for the region.

The green tide keeps growing and people continue to organise themselves to conquer their rights. Next time it will be legal. 

About the author

CELS is an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes defending the right to protest.

CELS es una organización de derechos humanos argentina con una amplia agenda que incluye la defensa del derecho a la protesta. 


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.