World, Americas

Argentina’s implementation of abortion law still murky

Legalization of early-term abortion celebrated by pro-choice activists and decried by pro-life activists

Bala Chambers   | 02.02.2021
Argentina’s implementation of abortion law still murky


On Dec. 30 last year, Argentina's Congress voted to legalize elective abortion in the first 14 weeks of gestation as the Senate backed the bill two years after rejecting a similar one.

Pro-choice activists welcomed the decision while pro-life sectors decried it.

In the mainly Catholic nation and birthplace of current Pope Francis, abortion is a divisive issue.

Previously, it was only permissible when a mother’s life was at risk, if a fetus was deformed or in cases of rape.

Government data show there were at least 350,000 illegal abortions per year, while rights groups say the number was closer to 500,000.

According to rights groups, before the change in the law, women seeking legal abortion faced various impediments ranging from stigmatization to prison sentences, with women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds suffering the most, being driven towards clandestine or backstreet abortions.

One of the main causes of maternal deaths in the last three decades has been abortion complications.

Those who backed the change in the law have been referred to as the “green wave” due to the green handkerchiefs they wore at protests showing their pro-choice position.

‘Ni Una Menos’ (Not One Less), a social movement spanning Latin America, has been mobilizing on the streets since around 2015, seeking to advance women’s rights and calling for a change to the abortion law.

Carla Vicaria is a member of two feminist collectives in Mendoza who argues that the previous law violated women’s rights and the change to legislation was down to the "constant feminist struggle” over many years.

Her feminist collectives provide “accompaniment” to women, from logistical support like providing information about how to terminate a pregnancy with specific drugs, to being physically present with women undergoing an abortion.

Carla says her collective has created “indispensable” networks of pro-choice activists and health professionals in order to circumvent impediments.

“This fight is not over yet!” she warned.

Despite the change in the law, the network of health professionals and activists will continue to operate.

Now Carla wants to see abortion fully implemented in the healthcare system without obstacles from those opposing the short-term termination of pregnancies.

“Women or pregnant people should not be in a situation facing bureaucracies and endless twists when it comes to accessing an abortion,” she said.

Others like Tatiana Lillo Cares, a 19-year-old student, welcomed the change in the law, saying the issue is important among the youth, as close to 7 in 10 pregnancies of women below the age of 19 are not intended.

For Tatiana, abortion is “a right of women that we deserve to have,” she said, adding “it is our body, and only we can say what can happen to it. No one else should tell us what to do or not with our body.”

Despite this, there has been strong pushback from conservative sectors, notably in Catholic and Evangelical circles.

“I think it's outrageous,” said 22-year-old Guadalupe Batallan, who attended all of the protests and was outside Congress when she first heard the news.

The student and writer argues the new law goes against the preservation of life and aspects of the constitution.

As an activist with the youth group ‘Frente Joven,' or “Young Front,’ those like her in Argentina have worn blue handkerchiefs to demonstrate their pro-life stance.

“The terrible thing is that this law comes into effect during a crisis for Argentina,” she said, referring to the pre-existing economic crisis before the global coronavirus pandemic hit the country.

Guadalupe suggests the new law may impact health care professionals who conscientiously object to it on moral grounds, adding “our health system is very hard-hit; it didn’t need this.”

President Alberto Fernandez’s campaign pledge during the election was to legalize abortion. But after assuming office, it was held up as the global pandemic struck.

On Jan. 15, the president signed the law into effect, thanking both legislators from his own party and the opposition.

But among families, it has been a polarizing issue.

Natalia Edith Mancilla, who works in the marketing and design sector, says it has improved people’s rights, like same-sex marriage previously did in the country.

Although the 35-year-old largely agrees with the change in the abortion law, she has some concerns. “I am 90% in favor and 10% have some other questions regarding whether the fetus suffers,” she said, adding “the mother could have the child and give it up for adoption. But the bureaucracy in this country does not make this process easy and children would suffer.”

Her younger sister, Cintia Mancilla, a content editor, disagrees. “I do not agree because there are more important issues to deal with, and it was not the time. In addition, there are currently various methods to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.”

She opposes abortion as solely a woman’s choice.

“It affects everyone around the person [wanting an abortion] and has ethical decisions for the medical personal who must be involved,” she said.

However, the decision does not only affect Argentines.

Seven years ago, Gioconda Canas, a motion graphics designer who creates animations and visual displays for TV shows and internet websites, left Venezuela due to the socioeconomic crisis in her home country and where abortion is banned.

The 31-year-old admires those who took to the streets to force the change.

“Argentine society is maturing in terms of women's rights, and I am deeply happy that has been done in a legal way.”

In Argentina, Gioconda believes “people with few [economic] resources can access it and do not have to put their lives at risk due to economic, social and psychological reasons leading them to seek illegal abortions.”

Gioconda says following the change in the law, Argentina has the opportunity to continue addressing deeper-lying social problems and inequalities.

But she argues that the potential punishment for medical professionals who conscientiously object to carrying out an abortion and will now have to find other medical professionals to carry one out is important.

“There have been unfortunate situations where people’s health in this situation has been compromised.”

On Jan. 24, the law came into full affect.

During Argentina’s deep economic crisis and global pandemic, it remains to be seen how efficiently safe access to legal abortion will be implemented across the national health care system.

On Jan. 28, despite Argentina being a federal nation, a judge in the northern province of Chaco blocked the application of abortion.

Following the change in the law, there are suggestions that other South American nationals may travel to Argentina for safe access to abortion.

Some predict Argentina, the largest nation in Latin America to have legal early-term abortion, may now inspire other nations on the continent to push for a similar change.

In addition to Argentina, only Cuba, Guyana and areas of Mexico allow early-term abortion.

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