Victories and Validation: A year on from the legalisation of abortion in Argentina. ￼
Translation by David Crowe
*This research was supported by a grant from Internews Health Journalism Network
Law number 27,610; access to the voluntary termination of pregnancy (la Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo, IVE) was sanctioned by the National Congress of Argentina one year ago on the 30th December. According to the Argentinian National Ministry of Health, there have now been 32,758 pregnant women who, between 30th December 2020 and the 30th November 2021, have had safe and free legal abortions through the public health system. Their victory and the validation by official channels seem to clarify the debate.
“It will be legal” was the chant that could be heard all over on the night of 30th December 2020 in every corner of Argentina. More than 2 million people took to the streets to protest for legal, safe and free abortion. The ‘green tide’, as the movements of women and feminists who were in favour of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal Abortion were renowned, flooded all of the squares of the country with politically motivated, recreational, and informative activities as they dominated these public spaces and maintained a watch that finished at 4:15 AM.
With one abstention, 38 votes in favour, 29 against, and a historic victory, the sanctioning of the Law no. 27,610 guarantees the legal and voluntary abortion of pregnancy and promotes outpatient care for those who had had an abortion as it stopped being something intangible to many women and became a recognised legal right.
This historic milestone which captured the attention of the entire world was the result of tireless work pushed forwards by the movements of women, feminists, political parties, and groups of dissidents who came to fight relentlessly to guarantee this fundamental victory in terms of sexual and reproductive health.
The challenge then is to achieve this alongside a Law of Sexual Education that promotes information and delivery of contraceptive methods, providing tools to create solutions.
Legal abortion: A historic debt that should end
Since 1921, article 86 of the Penal Code expressed that it was legal to have an abortion only in the case that it threatens the life of the woman or that it be the result of rape. However, the implementation of this had been systematically corrupted by democratic governments and completely ignored during the last military dictatorship.
With the return of democracy in the year 1983, a gradual process of visibility and discussion in the public sphere around women forced to be silent about crimes committed against them began. Diverse groups re-emerged and developed after the need of achieving legal abortion, such as the Commission for the Right to Abortion, Choice, the Forum for Reproductive Rights, and Catholics of Córdoba in Favour of the Right to Decide, among others.
During the decade of the 1990s, and with the Reform of the Magna Carta, the debate returned due to the widespread use of faster methods of communication. Moreover, during this time, the Commission for the Right to Abortion presented to Parliament, “the Blueprint to the law of Contraception and Abortion”, receiving social backlash for a short time.
With the arrival of the year 2000, the internet allowed new spaces for discussions to circulate, and journalists prone to speak of abortion were given another way to get their voice heard, changing the scenery of the debate.
During the National Meeting of Women in Rosario (2003), the first march that incorporated the green scarf that would become the symbol of the struggle occurred, resulting in the formation of the National Campaign for the Right to Safe and Free Legal Abortion. This combined almost 70 groups of activists under the banner “Sexual education to decide, contraceptives to avoid abortion and legal abortion to not die.”
The necessity of the practice of abortion was revealed not only through statistics and scientific study but also through notorious public cases like that of Ana María Acevedo, the young woman originating from Santa Fe who, in 2007, was diagnosed with maxillary cancer whilst she was in the early stages of pregnancy. In the Hospital of Iturraspe in the city of Santa Fe, they refused Ana María access to abortion, and then after weeks of suffering, they performed an emergency cesarean on her. The baby survived only 24 hours and Ana María died 14 days later.
In 2012 the discussion took a new turn with the governmental ruling of FAL, which guaranteed the Legal Termination of Pregnancy (la Interrupción Legal del Embarazo, ILE) for victims of sexual abuse and advised the provinces that they provide protocols to facilitate the law for the Legal Termination of Pregnancy in cases approved by the law.
With abortion on the agenda, the movement in 2015, Ni Una Menos (Not one more woman’s life lost) reaffirmed the motif, “Without legal abortion, there isn’t one woman’s life lost” and the green wave began something from which there would be no going back. They won legal abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy without the necessity of an explanation, or in the case that the pregnancy was the consequence of rape or places the woman’s health in danger.
The sanction came into force on the 24th of January 2021 and legitimised the work that had secretly taken place for years.
The law of IVE or Implementation of Voluntary Abortion: Validation and Implementation
A year after the sanctioning of the law, it is necessary to clarify the real and effective implementation of said law, drawing upon diverse voices of professionals, activists, and the centres for investigation.
To achieve this clarification, it was necessary to look at the report from “Proyecto Mirar” (Project Observation) coordinated by Ibis Reproductive Health and the Centro de Estudio de Estado y Sociedad (CEDES, Centre of Study for State and Society). Their work is the investigation of policy and strategy in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, monitoring the implementation of the IVE so that the “recognised rights be a reality in the daily life of women, whether adults, adolescents or children”.
According to the report, during the first half of 2021, 25,894 girls, adolescents and women used public health services to access legal and voluntary abortions. However, in cities like Buenos Aires, the quantity of IVE/ILE reports between January and June 2021 were 4,239 whilst they were only 95 in Formosa, which is a disconnect in the implementation of the law in these regions and show inequality in the existence of real and symbolic access to abortions.
The project includes in its observations those groups of support for abortions and/or accompanied in the search for the guarantee of the right to abortion, understanding that the movements of women, feminists, and activists were, and are key in detecting barriers or violations to the access of abortion as well as being vital in helping spread knowledge concerning the law.
Legal Abortion: Possible Solutions
According to ‘Proyecto Mirar’, different activists recognise the necessity of a network that continues extending and consolidating groups that guarantee the practice of legal abortion in the public sector as much as the private sector. They also agree that conscientious objectors to the law be publicly identified. To this end, Olga Cristóbal, journalist and investigator of women’s history and upholder of the Plenary of Workers in Política Obrera (Workers Party), warns that:
“The Conscientious Objectors [to legal abortion] are far from having a conscience. In the majority of cases, they are on precarious contracts and if they weren’t objectors, they would probably be exposed to dismissal. That is the reality in el NOA (the Argentinian North-West), in Mesopotamia, in Formosa, in El Chaco; it could be that a medical professional who agrees to perform an abortion in those places knows that he or she puts themselves at risk of losing their job.
Yet, were they to do so, they would expose those responsible for the [unjust] loss of their job. (…) the medical professionals are vulnerable; they don’t have job stability and they cannot tell their boss – you believe this and I believe something else -because they depend upon their boss to give them another year of work. I don’t believe one should demonise medical professionals. [For example,] there is a medical professional in Salta (Miranda Ruiz del Hospital de Tartagal) who is being processed for having performed an abortion under the rights guaranteed by law.”
On the other side, diverse activists consulted by ‘Proyecto Mirar’ are raising the need for the state to continue pushing the spread of updated information so people have full access to the knowledge and their own decision since those symbolic gaps result in the delay or restriction to the access to abortion.
In respect to access to the practice and vigilance of the implementation of the law, Claudia Damiani, a medical cardiologist of the city of Santa Fe, activist, and part of the Network of Professionals for the Right to Choose, was consulted.
She affirmed that “taking stock after the first year, I believe that women continue to seek help in the safeguarding of their own lives and continue trusting in unofficial systems because of the mistreatment found within the health system; meaning that many continue without knowing the proper routes to follow and find themselves blocked [access to abortion] or badly treated”.
On another point, Olga Cristóbal stated that: “there still exists a network of parallel activists (Socorristas) who are the ones supporting lovingly most cases. Because the numbers stated by the province (Santa Fe) are much lower than the ones that were carried out. (…) luckily, activists like Las Nanas, for example, continue doing the job the government doesn’t do”.
This is reflected nationally, as according to data published by “Socorristas en Red”, a group of feminists in Argentina, “between the 30th January and 30th October of 2021, we accompanied 9900 women in their abortions. 2377 decided to be accompanied within the health system and 7523 did it independently”.
On the other hand, Olga Cristóbal pointed out that: “the right to decide over their bodies is much more than pregnancy to women. It means autonomy, to have a life project and not be subjugated to family expectations: to think that the streets, the access to culture, education, or work are very good reasons for living, and for those same reasons, ignorant people seek to destroy the right to abortion”.
Finally, the standing member of Dirección Nacional de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, (DNSSR, the National Directory of Sexual and Reproductive Health), Valeria Isla, provided a possible solution when she mentioned that:
“The introduction of the drug Mifepristone is a priority for the coming year. If it receives donations and the growing demand for purchase becomes obvious, it will be necessary to introduce it; to register it, to produce it. But it has to be on the public agenda. It seems to me that in 2022 we can move forward in that sense. In the case of the drug Misoprostol, we have to keep consolidating the national production, increase the sale from the registered laboratory in Argentina to social projects and prepay for it to be accessible in those [public] sectors”.
The struggle for legal abortion in Argentina has changed the meaning and importance of body, choice, and liberty for women and pregnant persons.
This force of the women’s movement hits like a tidal wave against the old ecclesiastical and patriarchal structures. In doing so, it opens a path for necessary debates and plants the seeds for the establishment of agreements and the eradication of limitations; thus marking the agenda in regards to sexual and reproductive rights, to continue to move forward without so much as a step backward.