By Sasha Tucker
New York City, New York
On December 30, Argentina legalized abortion, becoming the fourth and largest country in Latin America to allow abortion without restriction in early pregnancy. The Senate approved the bill by a greater margin than had been expected (38 to 29, with one Senate member abstaining).
It is now legal in Argentina for women to end pregnancies for any reason up to fourteen weeks. After fourteen weeks, exceptions will be permitted for rape and concerns for the pregnant woman’s health. Abortion will be free in public hospitals.
The vote marks an enormous victory for Latin America’s women’s rights movement. A 2018 attempt to legalize abortion passed the lower house, but was defeated 38 to 31 in the Senate. Argentina’s success will likely spur abortion-rights activists through Latin America. Green handkerchiefs, the symbol of the pro-abortion movement in Argentina, have already made appearances in other countries.
The passage of the bill was the result of a years-long, largely leaderless movement. Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s president, was a powerful backer, but grass-roots advocates played a key role. Years of marches and online campaigning have led to deep shifts in Argentine public opinion. Fernández campaigned on a platform that included abortion rights, gender equality, and gay and transgender rights.
There are no official figures available for how many illegal abortions take place annually in Argentina, but the National Health ministry estimates between 371,965 and 522,000. Fernández said more than 3,000 people have died from illegal abortions. According to a report from Human Rights Watch, nearly 40,000 women and children in Argentina were hospitalized in 2016 due to abortions or miscarriages. With the approval of this bill, abortion will hopefully be brought out of the shadows.
Although many met the legalization news with celebration (music and dance filled the streets well into the night), Argentina’s anti-abortion factions remain determined. The legalization of abortion in Argentina is just as likely to mobilize pro-life groups, reports Human Rights Watch.
Ana Belén Marmora, an activist in the anti-abortion group Youth Front, wrote on Twitter, “Se va a caer esta cultura de la muerte y del egoísmo humano.” (This culture of death and selfishness is going to fall.)
Pope Francis, an Argentinian, is an active supporter of the anti-abortion groups. Although he has attempted to remain uninvolved in his home country’s politics, he Tweeted a message that clearly pertained to the issue.
“The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God. He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
The bill was approved, though, and is an enormous victory for all women. Argentina’s story is important; it demonstrates that activism can bring about important change. Abortion was only the beginning of the fight for women’s rights, but its legalization will fuel the movement—in Argentina and beyond—for years to come.