Argentine President Snubs Women’s Rights on His Way Out the Door

When Alberto Fernandez defeated conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri in Argentina’s presidential elections, members of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free abortions—and the feminist movement more broadly—rejoiced, recognizing his victory as an opportunity to finally pass legislation to legalize abortion. And rightly so. In post-election interviews, president-elect Fernandez vowed to support the decriminalization of abortion citing both the public health crisis and women’s rights.

But, as feminists in Argentina and worldwide celebrated this news, the Macri administration opted to use its final weeks in office to jeopardize women’s health in an attempt to score meaningless political points.

On November 20, hours after the Ministry of Health released routine protocols on legal abortion, Macri revoked them. This mixed message immediately caused confusion and uncertainty among providers, the lawyers who support them, and most importantly, people facing an unwanted pregnancy. According to Dr. Mariana Romero, Director of IWHC grantee partner CEDES, “this setback creates a sense of uncertainty among providers and women, resulting in the misconception that there no legal abortions unless a bill is passed.” One day later, Argentina’s Health Secretary Adolfo Rubinstein, a supporter of the protocols, resigned in protest, followed by Silvia Oizerovich, the Director of the Ministry’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Program.

Argentine law allows abortion to preserve the health of life of the pregnant person, or in cases of rape. But after last year’s “green wave” of feminist activism brought the country to the brink of legalizing abortion, the topic has risen to the top the national agenda for both supporters and opponents of legal change. To be clear, the updated protocols did not create a new law nor did they expand the circumstances under which pregnant people can access abortion. Quite simply, like the protocols published in 2007, 2010, and 2015, this most recent version provided clear guidance that would enable pregnant people to access the services they are entitled to under existing law.

This should not be controversial. Medical protocols are updated regularly to reflect advances in science and medicine and ensure that patients receive the best care possible. In the case of this most recent update, the protocols were revised to align with 2015 Argentine Civil and Commercial Code that included guidance on informed consent for girls, adolescents, and people living with disabilities. The new protocols also incorporated the most recent guidance from the World Health Organization. By revoking a revised version of the previous protocols, Macri is denying Argentine citizens access to the best standard of available medical care. Ironically, when conceding defeat, President Macri told his supporters: “We need an orderly transition that will bring tranquility to all Argentinians, because the most important thing is the well-being of all Argentinians.” Yet by pulling the protocols, he prioritized his own ideology and the well-being of his conservative allies over ensuring stability in the country’s public health sector.

Despite President Macri’s efforts to undermine sexual and reproductive health and rights, the protocols will move forward. President-elect Fernandez has appointed a new Minister of Health, Ginés González García, who has long been a supporter of abortion rights and has vowed to reinstate the protocols upon assuming office.

Outgoing President Macri’s decision to revoke the protocols is a vindictive and disruptive attempt to limit the rights of pregnant people in the final weeks of his presidency—especially in light of the most recent developments that prove progress is inevitable. But let’s be clear: The short-term revocation of the protocols has the immediate effect of making it more difficult for doctors to provide quality care and for pregnant people to safely end their pregnancies.

The people have spoken. When president-elect Alberto Fernandez takes office on December 10, he must fulfill his promise to the Argentine people and prioritize the decriminalization of abortion.

Photo: Cobertura colaborativa 

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