It is law. In Argentina, women who decide to interrupt their pregnancy will be able to do so legally, safely and free of charge in the health system. The Senate approved early this Wednesday the legalization of abortion until week 14 by 38 votes in favor, 29 against and one abstention. It has thus buried the law in force since 1921, which considered it a crime except in case of rape or risk to the life of the mother. In the streets, the green tide feminist has exploded with joy. “We conquered it. It’s law! ”, It was written on all the giant screens installed on the green side of the square in front of Congress. With applause, tears and long hugs the crowd celebrated the outcome of a long battle.
With the new legislation, Argentina is once again at the forefront of social rights in Latin America. As of this Wednesday, it is the first large country in the region to allow women to decide about their bodies and whether or not they want to be mothers, as Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and French Guiana did before. In the others, there are total or partial restrictions. The initiative, approved in the Chamber of Deputies two weeks ago, contemplates that pregnant women can access a legal abortion until week 14 after signing a written consent. It also stipulates a maximum period of ten days between the request for interruption of the pregnancy and its performance, in order to prevent maneuvers that delay abortion until it is prevented.
The pressure from religious and conservative groups to maintain the criminalization of abortion has been very strong, but it has not been enough to repeat the result of 2018, when the Senate rejected the bill. Still, a strong legal offensive is anticipated. In the country of Pope Francis, the Church still has a lot of prestige. Not only because it works together with the State in assisting the poorest, through hundreds of soup kitchens. Francisco’s closeness to President Alberto Fernández is evident, and the abortion issue was always an uncomfortable territory of disputes. The square in front of the Congress was evidence of this. On the blue side, where anti-abortion groups congregated, priests celebrated masses before makeshift altars and protesters carried crosses and rosaries, ultrasound photos and a huge bloody cardboard fetus.
Unlike in the lower house, where approval was discounted, the outcome in the more conservative Senate was more uncertain. But from the start the expectation accompanied the greens. The numbers were very even and everything depended on a handful of undecided, who immediately went from five to four: a senator anticipated that he would vote green after a minimal tweak in the text of the law. Hours later, two senators and two senators also announced their positive vote and raised the affirmative votes to 38, compared to 29 negative. The celestial ones, in addition, had lost two votes before starting: that of Senator Carlos Menem, 90, in a coma induced by a kidney complication; and that of former governor José Alperovich, on leave until December 31 for a complaint of sexual abuse.
The triumph of the yes to the law was soon defined, even before midnight, when there were still four hours of speeches to go. “When I was born, women did not vote, we did not inherit, we could not go to university. We couldn’t divorce, we didn’t have housewives retirement. When I was born, women were nobody. I feel emotion for the struggle of all the women who are out now. For all of them, let it be law ”, declared Senator Silvia Sapag during the debate, in a synthesis of the tone of the green speeches.
Among those who opposed the law, many criticized the opportunity for debate, in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, and others cited religious arguments, such as María Belén Tapia: “God’s eyes are looking at every heart in this place and puts in front of us the conditions for our Nation as of today. Blessing if we value life, curse if we choose to kill innocents. I don’t say it, it says the Bible by which I swore ”.
In the northern provinces of the country, the most conditioned by the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, the majority of legislators opposed it. In the Argentine capital and in the province of Buenos Aires, on the other hand, almost all the representatives supported the legalization, whatever their party.
For 99 years, in Argentina it was legal to interrupt a pregnancy in case of rape or risk to the life or health of the mother. In all other cases, it was a crime punishable by jail. Still, criminalization was not a deterrent: according to unofficial estimates, up to half a million women have clandestine abortions each year. In 2018, 38 women died from medical complications stemming from unsafe abortions. About 39,000 had to be hospitalized for the same cause.
“Forcing a woman to gestate is a violation of human rights,” said official Senator Ana Claudia Almirón, from the northern province of Corrientes. “Without the implementation of comprehensive sexual education, without the provision of contraceptives and without a protocol for the legal interruption of pregnancy, the gurisas [niñas] Corrientes are forced to give birth at 10, 11, and 12 years, ”Almirón denounced.
“In 2018 we did not achieve the law but we did raise awareness about a problem: today there are women who are aborting in precarious and unhealthy conditions,” says Mariángeles Guerrero, member of the National Campaign for the right to legal, safe and free abortion . “Abortion ceased to be a taboo subject that was talked about under the breath and began to be an issue that had to be debated politically to guarantee safe conditions in which to perform these abortions,” he adds. In 1921, when the current law was approved, Argentina was at the regional forefront in women’s rights, but the lack of subsequent debates made it lose the race. Now he has made up lost ground.