On Wednesday, December 30, Argentina’s Senate voted to legalize elective abortion. This major shift comes during a push by women’s rights activists throughout Latin America, and is especially notable because of Argentina’s predominantly Roman Catholic population, even being the birthplace of the current Pope Francis.
Once the legislation is signed, Argentina will be the largest country in Latin America to have legalized elective abortions. While the procedure is legal in Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and parts of Mexico, much of Latin America faces a conservative pushback against women’s rights activists due to the region’s heavy Roman Catholic influences. In Mexico, this manifests in fighting violence against women, but in Argentina, the vote followed years of debate and demonstrations. The New York Times cites rising secularism in the country as contributing to the decision, particularly among the younger populations. Last year’s election was a major contributing factor, as President Alberto Fernández is one of the most socially liberal presidents in the history of Argentina. After the vote, he tweeted “Abortion, safe, legal and free, is law.”
The bill will allow abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Currently, the procedure is permitted only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Many activists hope that this legislation will create a precedent and hope throughout Latin America. Morena Herrera, a prominent activist in El Salvador, stated that “Here.. we have women still in prison for terminating their pregnancies, teenagers accused of abortion who are being charged in court. The need to change legislation is urgent and what happened in Argentina gives us more power, it makes us feel vindicated, it proves that social change is possible.” Echoing these sentiments is Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, minister of women, genders and diversity in Argentina, who said, “Today we took a huge step and we are getting closer to the Argentina we dream of. We are writing our destiny, we are making history.”
As these activists remind us, Argentina’s decision here sets an important precedent for Latin America. Although it is not the first country in the region to legalize elective abortions — as stated above, Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana, and parts of Mexico have all legalized the procedure as well — it is the first major power in the region to do so. Many smaller countries and even other major powers of the region may follow suit.
The country’s religious ties only serve to strengthen this precedent. The current pope was born in Argentina, and although he may not endorse or even support the legislation, Argentina’s ties to the Roman Catholic Church are undeniable. A country so closely tied to the church legalizing elective abortions may assuage fears among less socially liberal leaders in the region that the religious views of many of the citizens are incompatible with this sort of legislation. This legislation is for the protection of women and their children. While previously, only women who were the victims of rape or incest, or whose lives were in danger because of their pregnancy could receive abortions. Soon, women without the means or desire to take care of a child in a safe and happy home will also be able to receive safe, legal abortions, without fear of imprisonment or illness thanks to the bill. It is the choice of each woman to do so, an idea that complies with the Roman Catholic Church — these abortions are not mandated.
Thanks to the precedent set by Argentina, women and activists throughout Latin America and the world are beginning to feel a stronger sense of hope that their reproductive rights will be strengthened moving forward.
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