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Abortion Legalised in Argentina

Large crowds in Argentina were jubilant as it was announced Congress has legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy. Senators voted for the Bill, with 38 in favour and 29 against.

Until now, abortions were restricted and only permitted in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was a risk. This previous law was heavily swayed by the Catholic Church, who have a great influence in Argentina.

Attitudes Against

Not only in Argentina but around all South America, the Catholic Church is highly influential and strongly opposed the Bill, calling on senators to reject it. Father Guillermo Marco, the former spokesman of the Argentine pontiff, describes abortion as “not a solution for the mother or for the unborn child“, and Pope Francis himself is said to have “the same opinion as any other Christian who defends life from the moments of conception”.

Following the passing of the Bill, anti-abortion activists have made efforts to oppose it. Jael Ojuel, a doctor and an evangelical, says that she will become a conscientious objector to the Bill and refuse to perform abortions. She argues that “the rights of a woman end when the rights of the embryo or the foetus that’s growing starts.” Abortion was further described as “a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life” by Ines Blas, a senator who voted against the law.

The Story of Ana Correa

The obstinate attitudes against abortion were experienced first-hand by Ana Correa – an Argentinian journalist, who now shares her experiences so others do not have to go through the same ordeal.

  • Eleven years ago, when Ana was three months pregnant with her second child, she discovered her baby had Edwards’ Syndrome – a serious genetic disorder – and would not survive birth. After hearing this tragic news, she decided it was time to end the pregnancy.
  • Ana described going to a doctor (who was affiliated with the Catholic Church) and he suggested that she continued with the pregnancy, so she “would be able to hug [her] dead baby”. This was all the help that she was offered and, thus, there was little option but to turn to a clandestine abortion.
  • The first place Ana approached, it was discovered there was a tumour on her uterus. The doctor was “anything but sympathetic” and told her she would have to pay thousands of dollars if she wanted the abortion and tumour removal carried out. If not, she would die. Ana described it as “so brutal, I walked away”.
  • The next place Ana went to, she was warned that she would have to lie to anyone who asked about the procedure. “It felt unfair… and they were treating me as if I was a criminal” she recalled.
  • After an exhausting search for a procedure, Ana returned to the hospital for her next pregnancy scan. However, they found that the baby’s heart was no longer beating. The only thing she was offered was misoprostol – a drug that can be used to induce abortions – and told to return to the hospital when she was “bleeding heavily”. She returned, haemorrhaging, but survived.
  • Ana now continues to campaign for women’s rights through her activism, campaigning, and the recent publication of her book ‘Somos Belén’.

The Movement For

Since 2005, the movement of Pro-Choice activists (labelled as the “Green Wave”) has now grown considerably over the past years – introducing seven Bills to Congress. Nevertheless, women can be seen wearing green bandanas around their necks, wrapped around their wrists or tied to their bags. They symbolise the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe & Free Abortion.

It seems the Green Wave has taken a hold over Argentina, and emphatically infiltrated some of the opposing views to abortion. President Fernandez even stated, “I’m catholic but I have to legislate for everyone”, and Argentina’s Women’s Minister, Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta, described this as “making history”. Senator Silvina Garcia Larraburu voted against the previous Bill two years ago, but gave it backing this time round. He exclaimed, “my vote is in favour of free women, of women who can decide according to their own conscience”.

Conclusion

The passing of the Bill celebrates a global achievement. It has overturned law in Argentina that has been in place since 1921, and only two years ago was a previous Bill introduced but voted down. This a monumental complete U-Turn in the nation’s attitudes towards abortion – especially given the heavy influence of the Catholic Church and its disapproval.

President Fernandez announced it was a matter of public health as every year around 38,000 women are taken to hospital due to clandestine terminations, and since the restoration of democracy in 1983, “more than 3,000 have died”. In addition to this new legislation, the Senators have also voted in favour of a Bill labelled as the ‘1000-day plan’, which will provide better healthcare for pregnant women, widens women’s rights, and guarantees public health. Fernandez describes this as a “a better society” overall. Argentina does still have a prevalence of domestic abuse and sexual harassment towards women, however this “better society” is indeed developing. With the likes of abortion legislation; ‘1000-day plan’; a legal quota for at least a third of Congress members to be women; and the current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (the first directly elected female president, and the first woman re-elected to the office), attitudes are slowly evolving towards enforcing women’s rights. There is however, still a way to go.

With abortion remaining illegal or heavily restricted in neighbours such as Chile, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, perhaps this may inspire others to follow – as if it were a “domino effect” described Jose Miguel, the Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. Whilst Argentinian crowds are jubilant, there are still women having difficulties in their home countries around the continent – you can read more here about Chile and Brazil in their fights to secure stronger women’s rights and access to safe abortions.

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