Argentina’s New President Promises To Legalize Abortion

On March 1st, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez announced that he will send a bill legalizing abortion to Congress within the next ten days. His initiative will be followed by sexual education and pregnancy prevention programs. Fernandez’s new bill will change the current abortion law that only allows abortion in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. Women’s rights activists’ previous effort to renovate the bill had failed due to Mauricio Macri’s, the president at the time, refusal to endorse the bill which presented in August 2018. President Fernandez’s endorsement now gives hope to both Argentinian and other Latin American women’s rights groups fighting for their rights. Fernandez described himself as an “activist for putting an end to the criminalization of abortion” in an interview. While this has led him to gain support from Argentina’s activists, it has aroused opposition from Catholic religious groups.

A women’s right activist Ana Correa expressed her happiness and hopefulness in an interview she had with Al-Jazeera. Correa stated that the feminist movement will keep on pressuring, regardless of the difficulties they may face from opposing legislators. Daniel Lipovetsky, a legislator in Buenos Aires, said that “it would have been unimaginable that a president would send a project to legalize abortion to Congress.” This shows how far Argentina came on the debate on abortion, especially since the Catholic Church has major influence on the matter. Yet, during President Fernandez’s speech, the Episcopal Conference of Argentina tweeted a reminder of their mass for International Women’s Day to demonstrate opposition to abortion. According to Al-Jazeera, Monsenor Jorge Eduardo Scheinig, an archbishop, shared a message of him saying “We are pained and concerned by this way of behaving that avoids the reasonable democratic debate over the care of life, the first human right.” He also argued that such an abortion law would go against the National Constitution, international treaties and the Civil and Penal Codes of Argentina. Even though there is opposition within the country, there is encouragement coming from international human rights organizations. The Executive Director of Amnesty International Argentina, Mariela Belski showed their support of the new bill and called on Congress to listen to the demands of women who have been fighting to gain their rights.

Women all around the world are fighting for their rights to have equal pay, equal treatment, abortion, and education alongside many other things, and they are not always heard and are frequently ignored by politicians. Therefore, it is encouraging to see President Fernandez endorsing a bill that many feminist activists have been fighting for, especially after the news of Colombia rejecting the legalization of abortion on March 2nd. As one of Latin America’s biggest countries, Argentina can set an example for its neighbors. It is an important step towards empowering women. In almost all cases, women are the ones who are affected by the lack of sex education and the illegality of abortion. The consequences women face when they get pregnant are greater than men. Some lose their jobs; some may be looked down by their family or friends for having premarital pregnancy; and due to their assigned gender roles, they are expected to act in certain ways. Women should be able to decide when, how and with whom they want to have a child. As long as the procedure of abortion remains illegal, women will continue to risk their lives by going to underground clinics.

According to the Argentine government, 350,000 illegal abortions take place every year, and activists stated that 3,000 women in Argentina have died from these abortions since 1983, and more than 45,000 women have been hospitalized due to complications. These high numbers are concerning, and when the bill presented by activists was first rejected by the Senate in August, it created great disappointment. Argentina’s close relationships with Pope Francis who was the archbishop of Buenos Aires prior of being elected as the pope also affected the decision of the Senate. According to the Clarin newspaper, Francis personally requested anti-abortion legislators to lobby to reject the bill in 2018. Many Catholic priests and bishops spoke against the abortion and while the Senate was debating the bill, the church had a “mass for life” at the Buenos Aires Cathedral. The Catholic Church’s attitude towards abortion and the sex abuse scandals in the Vatican increased discontent with the church and sparked debates on the secularization of the state. If this bill pass it can lead to beginning of a new age in Argentinian politics.

In Latin America, only Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana permit abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, while some like Argentina allow in cases of rape or health risks. If Argentina, the third biggest country in the region, passes the law, it can set an example for other Latin American and Catholic countries. Besides providing a human right to women, President Fernandez said that this legislation would help fight with poverty that is now affecting 40% of the population. Hopefully, Congress will listen to the desires of its people and help empower Argentinian women.