Argentina’s Lower House Passes Bill To Legalize Abortion

Argentina is set to become the most populated Latin American country to legalize abortion, after a vote by the lower house of 131 to 117 in favour of the legislation put forward by President Alberto Fernández. The bill which would legalize abortion up to 14 weeks, passed after a 20-hour debate which went into Friday morning, and the result was televised to jubilation and celebration from those in approval of the pro-choice bill.

This is part of President Fernández’s pledge to prioritize women’s rights within his newly formed government, as well as LGBTQ+ rights. Given the quick onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early stages of the new government, many have been encouraged by this commitment to meet the policies and promises that he ran an election on, despite the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic, and the heavily catholic beliefs influencing policy within Argentina.

Fernández has stated that “…in the 21st century, every society needs to respect the individual choice of its members to decide freely about their bodies.” In agreement, Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina, believes that “it’s time we said goodbye to decades of violations of sexual and reproductive rights. Legalizing abortion is a human rights imperative.” Author Gabriela Cabezón Cámara is quoted in The Guardian, stating that “the approval of this bill will stop us from being used as birthing machines and allow us to be treated as human beings with a right to decide over our own bodies and destiny.”

Paula Avila-Guillen notes that “archaic abortion laws are not deterrents; they only lead to unsafe clandestine abortions that threaten the health and lives of the most vulnerable women and girls.” To this note, The Independent reported that more than 38,000 women and girls in Argentina have to make hospital visits each year after illegal abortions have gone wrong, and Argentina’s Access to Safe Abortion Network reports that over 7,000 girls aged ten to 14 gave birth between 2016 and 2018, many a result of sexual assault.

Whilst some abortions are allowed in Argentina due to risk to the mother’s health, or in cases of rape, many doctors are uncomfortable performing these due to fear of persecution. A bill such as this one is a victory for women and girls whose reproductive health has been disregarded by the policy.

The election of President Fernández has been a large catalyst for change, given his commitment to gender parity. Fernández’s 2021 budget sees more than 15 per cent of spending as going towards initiatives such as funding violence prevention programmes, and a quota system which will apply at least one per cent of federal public-sector jobs for transgender Argentines. The President has also requested that no meetings are scheduled which would consist of only straight men in an attempt to improve representation.

While the election of Fernández has aided the pro-choice cause, this is not to deny the decades of work by feminist collectives and social movements in view of achieving this result. Carla Vicario, as quoted in TRT World, said that due to grassroots activism, abortion has become cemented in the public consciousness. Without this work by collectives such as La Malona, Territories, and the wider National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, there wouldn’t have been this mobilization of forces for change which have created the “green wave” across Argentina and Latin America as a whole.

Whilst Argentina still awaits the ruling of the Senate to cement the result passed by the lower house, there is no denying that there is a new chapter being written for Argentina, one which Debora Diniz believes would have a “contagion” effect on the rest of the region. After Catholic teachings within the country have for many years stunted the progression towards more person-centred reproductive health legislation, this milestone in Argentina’s history is a victory for the women’s movement and for women in general, giving them the opportunity to control their own destiny and leaves many hopefuls for the future.

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