Abortion access in Argentina
and other parts of South America:
2018-AUG-07: Current status:
2012, Uruguay decriminalized abortion.
2016: Chile liberalized its abortion law, making it legal under limited circumstances.
2018-AUG: The Supreme Court in Brazil began to consider decriminalization of abortion.
Claudia Piñeiro is a leading Argentine novelist, playwright and screenwriter. She wrote a report on abortion access in her country for Time Magazine. She notes that:
"A pioneer in human rights, Argentina boasts one of the highest ranked universities in the world, has a thriving and diverse cultural life, and introduced same-sex marriage more than eight years ago. And my country brags a growing feminist movement, taking to the streets and making its voice heard loud and clear. ... but [almost all access to] abortion is illegal, clandestine, outside the health care system. Sometimes it is bloody. Sometimes it is deadly." 1
In reality, completed abortions are always deadly, at least to the embryo or fetus being aborted. But she is apparently referring to the death of the pregnant woman receiving an abortion.
As of 2018-JUL, abortions are legally available in the country to women if:
The pregnancy was the result of a rape,
The pregnancy endangers the mother's health,
The woman is mentally disabled, or
The fetus is malformed.
Supporters of greater access to abortion have participated in marches on Women's Day, and other occasions, wearing green scarves as a symbol of their concern. Some women, who wore head coverings matching those in Margaret Atwood's feminist dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale," demonstrated in Buenos Aires' Remembrance Park on 2018-AUG-05. 1
Although legal abortions in Argentina are rare, about a half-million are performed annually; the vast majority are illegal. An estimated 40% of all pregnancies are terminated by abortions. 7 During 2014, 47,000 women were hospitalized in the country for abortion complications. 2
During 2016, at least 31 women died after having an abortion; essentially all of these abortions were probably illegal.
During 2016, a woman who had a miscarriage were reported to police by a hospital as having obtained an illegal abortion. She was tried, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. She was found not guilty on appeal.
Polls in 2004 indicated that two out of three adult Argentines opposed more liberal abortion access. In 2018-MAR, about two in three favored more widespread access.
A great deal of opposition to abortion access comes from religious conservatives. 76% of the adult population is Christian: 66% belong to the Roman Catholic Church, 10% is Evangelical. 21% are unaffiliated and 3% belong to other religions. 2,3
2018: Congressional activity:
On JUN-14, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies -- the lower house in Congress -- passed a bill that would allow women legal access to abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy -- about the first trimester. It would also widen access to sexual health education and contraceptives. 6 The vote was close: 129 to 125. Later access would be allowed if the pregnancy resulted from rape, the woman's health is at risk if the pregnancy continued, or if the fetus suffers from severe conditions not compatible with life after birth.
Opposition congresswoman Mayra Mendoza, said:
"We are dealing with a public health issue that cannot be addressed with blinders, nor with morals and ethics and much less religion. ... This is also a matter of social justice." 4
Liliana Fernández, a pro-life accountant who was part of a public demonstration outside Congress had tears in her eyes when she learned that the bill had passed. She said:
"I can't believe it, I really can't believe it," she said. "I thought our representatives would never vote in favor of death. ... Now we have to make sure senators don't follow their lead."
Almendra Pizarro, a lawyer and pro-choice demonstrator, said:
"I was ecstatic for a second but we have to be realistic. It will be tough fight in the Senate. I feel this is a great conquest, the result of a fight that has been going on for a long time." 5
President Mauricio Macri has indicated that he will sign the bill into law even though he personally opposes increased abortion access. He said:
"We have been able to settle our differences with respect, tolerance and listening to each other; understanding that dialogue is the road that will strengthen our future. My congratulations to everyone, knowing that this debate now continues in the Senate."5
Roman Catholic Cardinal Mario Poli said that "... the foremost duty of a state is to protect the life of its inhabitants."
(The Catholic Church teaches that human personhood starts at conception and lasts until death. So it regards an embryo as an "inhabitant" of the country.)
Two days before the Chamber of Deputies started to debate the bill in June, Pope Francis compared abortions based on genetic defects in the fetus to efforts by the Nazi regime in Germany to improve the "purity of the race." He said:
"Last century, everyone was scandalized by what the Nazis did to ensure the purity of the race. Today, we do the same but with white gloves." 8
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International said:
"Today, Argentina has committed to make significant progress in defending the human rights of women and girls, and is also sending an important message to the rest of the continent, where restrictive laws on accessing safe and legal abortions have caused death and suffering for millions of women and girls." 4
In reality, she is wrong. Only the Chamber of Deputies has passed the bill. The Senate was expected to defeat it.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill on AUG-08. Since the Senate is more conservative than the Chamber of Deputies, it is expected to be defeated.
If it does pass, the President has promised to sign the bill into law, even though he personally opposes abortion access. The bill would make Argentina the third country in Latin America to give abortion access to women early in pregnancy, after Uruguay and Cuba.
2018-AUG-09: The Argentinean Senate rejected the abortion bill:
The bill was defeated by a vote of 38 to 31, with three Senators absent or abstaining.
Senator Esteban Bullrich said:
"This bill, which is a bad one, does not intend to reduce abortion. It doesn’t intend to reduce that tragedy. It legalizes it. It legalizes the failure." 8
Webmaster's comment (bias alert):
Since 2012, six abortion liberalizing bills have been introduced into the Chamber of Deputies but all failed to make it to the Senate.
With the failure of the bill to pass, liberalizing abortion access in Argentina appears to be stalled for now. A poll by Ipsos during 2018-JUL found that 49% of adults opposed loosening restrictions on abortion access while 41% approved. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, younger adults were more in favor of access while older adults were heavily opposed. Over time, as present-day teens become adults, the balance will probably shift in favor of increased access over time. So, it is likely that a similar bill could pass in the future.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Claudia Piñeiro, Argentina's Abortion Vote Reveals the Catholic Church's Deep Fear of Female Desire," Time, 2018-AUG-06, at: http://time.com/