Country becomes only the third in South America to permit elective abortions
Argentina has become the largest Latin American country to legalise abortion after its senate approved the historic law change by 38 votes in favour to 29 against, with one abstention.
Elated pro-choice campaigners who had been keeping vigil outside Buenos Aires’s neoclassical congressional palace erupted in celebration as the result was announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“The struggle for women’s rights is always arduous, and this time we even had to contend with a pandemic, so I am overjoyed with this result,” said the journalist and campaigner Ingrid Beck.
The bill, which legalises terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, was approved by Argentina’s lower house earlier this month after being put to congress by the country’s leftwing president Alberto Fernández.
“There is this hypocritical Argentina that denies abortion, just as it used to deny homosexuality,” Fernández said on the eve of this week’s vote, calling abortion a “public health problem” not a police matter.
Fernández said that since the return of democracy in 1983 more than 3,000 women had died as a result of unsafe, underground abortions in Argentina.
The landmark decision means Argentina will become only the third South American country to permit elective abortions alongside Uruguay, which decriminalised the practice in 2012, and Guyana, where it has been legal since 1995.
The Caribbean island of Cuba legalised the practice in 1965 while Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca also allow terminations.
Giselle Carino, an Argentinian feminist activist, said she believed the achievement in the home country of Pope Francis would reverberate across a region that is home to powerful Catholic and evangelical churches and some of the harshest abortion laws in the world.
In most countries, such as Brazil, abortions are only permitted in extremely limited circumstances such as rape or risk to the mother’s life, while in some, such as the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, they are banned altogether.
“I feel incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to achieve. This is a historic moment for the country, without a doubt,” said Carino, the regional head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
“It shows how, in spite of all the obstacles, change and progress are possible. Argentinian women and what’s happening right now will have an enormous impact on the region and the world,” Carino added, pointing to parallel struggles in Brazil, Chile and Colombia.
Colombian activists recently filed a lawsuit with the constitutional court asking it to remove abortion from the country’s criminal code while campaigners in Chile hope a new constitution might open the door to expanded women’s rights.
In the region’s most populous nation, Brazil, activists are waiting for the supreme court to rule on a 2018 legal challenge that would decriminalise abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy.
Mariela Belski, Amnesty International’s executive director in Argentina, said: “Both the law passed by the Argentine congress today and the enormous effort of the women’s movement to achieve this are an inspiration to the Americas.”
“Argentina has sent a strong message of hope to our entire continent: that we can change course against the criminalisation of abortion and against clandestine abortions, which pose serious risks to the health and lives of millions of people,” she added.
The senate vote is the result of five long years of mass protest marches by Argentina’s grassroots women’s movement, which began as a Twitter campaign against gender violence that used the hashtag #NiUnaMenos (“Not one less” - meaning no more women lost to gender violence).