Argentina’s Feminist Momentum: A Journey to Legal, Safe Abortion Laws

July 9, 2018

Argentina has drawn widespread attention in the past couple of weeks as the Argentinian Congress took it’s first step towards legalizing abortion for women up to 14 weeks. On June 14th, the bill officially passed the House by 129 to 125 votes after a 23-hour strenuous debate (Politi and Ellis). If the Senate approves the abortion bill in the next hurdle for women’s rights, then President Macri has agreed to sign the law into effect. Although immensely historic, Argentina wouldn’t be the first Latin American country to legalize abortion, as it has already been legalized in Guyana, Cuba, Uruguay, and Mexico City (Parvini).

What You Need to Know

Argentina has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Although abortion is legal in the cases of rape and when a woman’s life is at risk, the topic is still taboo, and some doctors are unwilling to do the procedure in fear of backlash. The illegality and societal stigma forces many women to undergo clandestine or illegal abortions--- and it’s not as uncommon as you may think. In a population of 44 million people, the Argentinian Ministry of Health reported roughly 500,000 clandestine/illegal abortions each year (Stewart). In 2016, 43 of the 245 maternal deaths in the country where due to illegal abortions--- making it a top cause of maternal death (Stewart). Because of the strict abortion laws, Argentinian women have turned to other abortion methods that put their health and safety at risk such as inserting knitting needles or drinking herbal “remedies” to induce labor (Parvini). However, a common form of abortion is the usage of misoprostol, a drug developed in the 1970’s to treat stomach ulcers. When women take the pill orally or insert in the vaginally it creates an abortion for up to 12 weeks (Parvini). Due to the fact that Argentinian women are denied access to safe and legal abortions, misoprostol is widely used because it is easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive.

 

A Long Journey

While huge steps forward in women’s rights such as liberalizing abortion laws would have seemed highly unlikely a couple of years ago, Argentinians have been incessantly demanding attention be paid to women’s rights over the last couple of years. Argentina’s tide of women’s rights is arguably born out other smaller movements in the region. In 2014, Argentina received recommendations from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process that evaluates the human rights records of all 193 UN Member states, to improve women’s reproductive rights ("Argentina Should"). The United Nations recommended that Argentina should take steps to make sure no woman or girl is subject to criminal punishments for abortion. Additionally, the UN suggested that Argentina should create legislation to legalize abortion and give women widespread access to reproductive health services. Four years later, despite being opposed to legalized abortion, Argentinian President Macri welcomed the issue to be debated in 2018. However, the most powerful feminist tide that has struck Argentina is the Ni Una Menos movement (meaning: “not one less [woman]”). The feminist movement was kindled out of outrage when a 14-year-old girl, Chiara Paez, was found murdered, pregnant, and buried underneath her boyfriend’s house on May 11th, 2015 (Beatley). Shortly after the atrocity, about 40,000 protesters marched to the Congress building in Buenos Aires to demand attention from the government to the systematic and structural issues of gender violence and femicide in the country (Beatley). The movement quickly spread throughout the region with other marches taking place in Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay (Goñi) Ni una Menos March in Buenos Aires, June 2015. The fight is still important as ever, a study found that a year after the first Ni Una Menos march in Buenos Aires, a woman was killed every 30 hours in Argentina ("A un año"). According to a 2016 Small Arms Surveys gendered analysis on violent deaths, 14 out of 25 countries with the highest femicide rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean ("Take five"). However, it is important to note that there are problems with proper investigation and recognition of femicide that affects global analysis of femicide.

Moving Forward

As pro-choice women across the world celebrate this step forward in women’s rights and safety, there is still uncertainty surrounding the bill passing through the Senate. The bill was hotly debated in the House before it passed with a slim margin. The bill is expected to reach the Senate for a vote in the next couple of months, which is widely known as more conservative. According to a tally by Economia Feminista, almost twice as many senators plan to reject the bill when it comes to the Senate (Stewart). Even if the bill doesn’t pass the Senate, Argentinian progressives are still thrilled at the movement to open a discourse on abortion in an overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Once a taboo issue to discuss in politics, many activists are optimistic with the open dialogue between citizens and politicians. 

About Author(s)

Alexis Takoushian
Alexis Takoushian is an incoming junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science and Spanish Language with a Certificate in Latin American Studies. She recently completed the semester-long Brackenridge Fellowship through Pitt’s University Honors College in which she researched foreign intervention in the Venezuelan crisis. During summer 2018, she plans to conduct research surrounding political attitudes of university students in Valladolid, Mexico through Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a degree within the field of international law.