Abortion Rights and Activism in Argentina

Argentina came so close to decriminalizing abortion. Abortion bill being rejected by the Senate in 2018, today abortion activism in Argentina is only getting stronger.


Blog by Isabel Pérez Witzke*


If you are an abortion rights advocate, I’m sure you experienced a rollercoaster of goosebumps in 2018: Ireland repealed the 8th Amendment of its Constitution, Argentina almost approved a new abortion legislation (rejected later by the Senate), El Salvador commuted 2 women who had extreme prison sentences, Cyprus reformed its abortion law, New Zealand and Macedonia announced new abortion laws reform. It was an exciting year, we know much has to be done and we know that our work is still needed.


Now, 2020 brought along another turmoil with the coronavirus pandemic. While many of us were locked down at our homes, with international borders closed and medical experts mobilized to fight COVID19, amid the chaos, telemedicine abortion, providing abortion through online counseling, was allowed in the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. Long restricted by the authorities, the abortion pill was finally freed and given into the hands of women and pregnant people. 


In countries were abortion care services are still restricted or criminalized, local helplines and abortion doulas are working to ensure that women and pregnant people have access to a safe abortion despite the pandemics. In Ecuador and Argentina, there have been a spike in the number of phone calls abortion and sexual and reproductive health helplines receive. 


Furthermore, health institutions and abortion righst advocates have also mobilized to ensure a safe context for women and pregnant people. For example, in Argentina, the coordinator of a national health program (Programa Nacional de la Salud Integral en la Adolescencia) and the national director of sexual and reproductive health (Dirección Nacional de Salud Sexual y Salud Reproductiva) indicated that sexual and reproductive health care and abortion care were essentials, a national pharmacy lab is also producing misoprostol and waiting to be distributed nationwide and Buenos Aires Legislature granted approval for the adoption of a comprehensive and progressive abortion protocol.


I’m dedicating this post to the feminist green wave movement in Argentina. They have shown resilience, patience and strategy. After 7th times of having discussed the bill to legalize abortion, we finally got a positive response from the house of Congress and, even though the Senate voted down the bill, the green wave is nothing but certain that we are getting closer to achieve the ultimate goal: decriminalize abortion and provide a safe environment (evidence-based protocols and health care with proper funding and resources) for the exercise of reproductive freedom and autonomy. 


This moment in Argentinian feminist history was possible because of the following scenario:


A resilient and persistent abortion rights campaign: 


The Postdictatorial Period in Argentina was the perfect opportunity to voice out fundamental human rights discussions, and feminists were crucial agents to them. During March 8th of 1984, at the International Day of Women Commemoration, feminists sang: “We don’t want to have an abortion. We don’t want to die because of an abortion”. It’s clear: we need reproductive autonomy and safety. Later on, a Commission on Safe Abortion was created around 1990 and in 1992 the first preliminary project on contraception and abortion was presented to the Chamber of Deputies. The project contained everything you’d expect: high-quality contraceptive supplies, availability of long-term contraception, comprehensive SRH services, safe abortion; and even got a broad support from civil society organizations. The need was very clear and it had grown in the streets, in the intimate spaces of human life, and it was going to persist until there were no more deaths due to unsafe abortions. 


The movement was organized and in 2005 the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free abortion (Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito) was launched to coordinate efforts, announce strategies and to facilitate an active political engagement to advance reproductive justice. Today, there are more than 400 organizations partnering with the campaign and they have presented bills in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014 and in 2018, as well as influenced important processes like the 2012 ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (also known as “fallo F.A.L”) which publicly recognized a broader conception of health when assessing conditions for non-punishable abortions. 

A persistent, but quiet opposition:


Religious conservatism and lack of representation in the Senate were two of the main reasons the bill got voted down. Some conservative groups aligned with the Catholic Church have been present before the public agenda discussions around abortion, comprehensive sexuality education and egalitarian marriage started. In fact, between 1920-1940, the Catholic Church started to promote the intersection between professional work and Christian faith, so Argentina experienced the creation of numerous groups of Catholic lawyers, doctors, and more, who were organized and wasted no time to adopt the anti-abortion agenda by 1970-1980. 


These groups have been promoting their values and faith for many years to prevent the later public discussions around abortion from making a difference in the Argentinian legislation. They have done this in different ways, from creating content for national Tv/radio to creating programs to assist women and pregnant people in vulnerability


Behind them, we still find the influence of powerful religious groups. An investigation by the Guardian put forward the Human Life International (HLI), a US-based organization, which we know pours thousands of dollars into Latin American and Caribbean countries to strengthen the capacities of anti-choice and anti-rights organizations. Only in 2018, HLI allocated 1,853,375 USD to their worldwide programs (which targeted the following subjects: contraception, abortion, marriage, reproductive technologies and euthanasia) and they had a country representative (Oscar Botta) presenting a statement during the house of Congress deliberations in 2018. 


They have been quietly influencing the public discussions around sexual and reproductive rights without proper accountability. How have they improved the quality of life of the most vulnerable populations? How is their lobby preventing the death of women and pregnant people? How are they achieving a decrease of unwanted pregnancies and effectively strengthening the adoption system to protect the rights of children living in abandonment and neglect? 


They haven’t. Abortion ban kills and Argentina has lost the lives of approximately 3.000 women since 1983 due to unsafe abortions. This is why after eight years, the green wave in Argentina only gets stronger. We are not afraid of having these discussions and the fact that the difference against the bill was so little (38 against, 31 in favor) shows that we came a long way. 


*Isabel Pérez Witzke is a youth advocate working on sexual and reproductive health and rights.