Last night, by rejecting a bill to decriminalize abortion, the Argentinean Senate missed a landmark opportunity to uphold women’s fundamental rights. The bill, which passed the lower house of Congress in June, would have legalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, said the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC).
This regrettable outcome will not reverse the momentum for reproductive autonomy in Argentina. “The Argentinean Senate refused to acknowledge Argentina’s new reality. The women’s movement has won public opinion and shifted the country’s civic dialogue towards human rights and facts on this issue,” said IWHC President Françoise Girard. “It is cruel and foolish to turn a deaf ear to the clamor of millions of Argentinean women and men. The women of Argentina demand a secular state, whose laws stop the clandestine abortions that continue to kill women. There is no turning back. They will continue fighting.”
Abortion in Argentina is prohibited, except in cases of rape or where the woman’s life or health is in danger. In June, the lower house passed a bill decriminalizing abortion, sending it to the Senate for further debate and a final vote. According to data from Argentina’s Ministry of Health, between 370,000 to 522,000 clandestine abortions are performed each year, many of them unsafe. Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina, and women can be jailed up to four years for obtaining a clandestine procedure.
Criminalization does not stop abortions, but makes them dangerous. Global evidence shows that countries that have decriminalized abortion experience a decline in the number of procedures performed over time, while maternal mortality rates related to unsafe abortion drop dramatically. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 percent of women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is highly restricted or completely banned. Despite these legal restrictions, there are three times as many abortions in the region than in Europe or North America, where abortion is mostly legal.
“The best way to reduce the number of abortions is not to criminalize women, but to adopt laws and invest in policies that support reproductive rights,” said Girard. “Argentina’s women’s movement, with its bold, sustained advocacy, has paved the way for decriminalization, sooner or later.”
The “green wave” of scarves and banners of the National Campaign for Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion has come to symbolize the call for reproductive justice in Argentina. In this conservative country where religion plays an important role, Argentina’s women’s movement successfully placed abortion rights at the center of national discussion on women’s rights, and turned public opinion. More than half of the population now fully or partially supports decriminalization, according to a recent survey conducted by Amnesty International and IWHC’s grantee partner Centro de Estudios de Estado y Sociedad (CEDES), in partnership with Quiddity. Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir-Argentina (CDD-Argentina), a longtime grantee partner of IWHC, is among the leaders of the Campaign.
Demonstrating the growing demand for reproductive rights, the final vote tally in the Senate was 38 against and 31 in favor, closer than anyone would have predicted just months ago. Globally, reproductive rights are expanding; more than 30 countries liberalized their abortion laws between 2000 and 2018.
A bill can be introduced again in Congress in 2019. In the meantime, the Argentinean women’s movement will continue its tireless advocacy for the right of women to receive safe and legal abortion care with dignity. IWHC has been a supporter of women’s groups and reproductive rights in Argentina for 20 years, and will continue to stand with its local grantee partners as they fight to secure women’s autonomy over their bodies and lives.
Contact: Liza Kane-Hartnett
[email protected]; (+1) 212-801-1260
Photo: Fotografías Emergentes