Since 1993, IWHC partner Católicas por el Derecho de Decidir –Argentina (Catholics for the Right to Decide–Argentina, or CDD–Argentina) has played a leading role in mobilizing communities to demand access to safe and legal abortion in the country. As part of these efforts, CDD-Argentina helped launch La Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito (the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion), and works with other organizations to monitor abortion services. CDD-Argentina has also helped train more than 550 health professionals on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues through its partnerships with universities.
We recently sat down with CDD-Argentina’s founder Marta Alanis in Buenos Aires to talk about the organization’s current projects, accomplishments, and challenges. Marta also shared how she first became interested in reproductive rights, and her thoughts on the current state of the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement in Argentina.
A feminist since childhood, Marta become involved in sexual and reproductive rights in the late 1980s while researching the experience of mothers in low-income neighborhoods. Marta realized that many of these women had sacrificed everything for their children. To them, and to society at large, motherhood was rarely seen as a choice, but rather an expectation. “I began to question [society’s] mandate of motherhood and came to realize that society over-values motherhood,” Marta told us.
Shortly after this experience, Marta helped launch CDD-Argentina, and later became the coordinator for the Latin American wing of Catholics for the Right to Decide. Today, Marta leads CDD-Argentina’s public education efforts and plays a vital role in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, a network comprised of over 300 organizations in Argentina.
Over the years, Marta has seen considerable progress in Argentina. The Programa Nacional de Salud Sexual y Procreacion Reponsible (National Program of Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation), a government program launched in 2003 that addresses the sexual and reproductive health needs of the population, was a significant milestone. CDD-Argentina advises the Ministry of Health on how to implement this program and expand access to contraceptives, including access for youth under the age of 18.
Marta also sees progress for LGBTQ Argentineans. The Marriage Equality Law, passed in 2010, “produced a significant cultural change in Argentina, and generated a great deal of pride among Argentineans.” She notes its passage contributed to a more tolerant atmosphere in the country, where gay couples now walk openly in the streets holding hands.
However, for Marta, the work is far from done. Obtaining greater abortion rights (abortion is currently permitted in the case of rape or to preserve the life or health of the woman) is a priority. She notes the country’s restrictions on abortion are linked to the high and rising maternal mortality rate: Recent figures show the maternal mortality rate was 55 deaths per 100,000 live births. Marta believes that only when women achieve greater autonomy over their reproductive health will this number decrease.
To confront this issue, CDD-Argentina is actively lobbying Congress and organizing events to educate public and elected officials and journalists. The group has organized 15 such meetings in the province of Cordoba, where women who have the legal right to an abortion still face barriers to accessing safe services. CDD-Argentina is also working to strengthen the National Alliance of Lawyers, an organization actively defending access to safe abortion in cases allowed by the current law.
With so much work still ahead for CDD-Argentina, Marta finds encouragement in the strength of her colleagues and the growing strength of the reproductive rights movement. “Women have begun to claim their rights,” Marta says. “A cultural change is taking place.”