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Argentina’s Senate Rejects Legalising Abortion – A Missed Opportunity for Improving Reproductive Rights

August 9, 2018 Argentina_001

A statement by the Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion, a Global South alliance of six civil society organisations committed to realising the right to safe abortion for all women. 

The Latin America region maintains some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, which over the years looked unlikely to change. The prevailing anti-abortion position of the Catholic Church, who have great influence on public life, and political power enjoyed by actors opposing the right to safe and legal abortion have made progressive change near impossible. Their capacity to influence legislative and executive branches has even led to the region-wide approval of a day to commemorate the unborn.[1] As it stands, more than 97% of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries with restrictive abortion laws[2] and where abortions are likely unsafe.

The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion started its ground work in 2005 and has introduced seven bills to Congress to liberalise abortion laws in the country, all of which were unsuccessful. Currently in Argentina, abortion is allowed under very limited circumstances such as in cases of rape, or if the mother’s health is in danger. It was not until earlier this year that President Mauricio Macri called Congress to debate the latest bill.[3]

In June the lower house narrowly passed the bill to legalise abortions till 14 weeks of pregnancy and late-term abortions in cases of fetal anomaly or to protect mother’s ‘psychological’ health.[4] With this, on August 8-9, the Argentine Senate debated and voted on whether to legalise abortion. During the marathon debate which lasted nearly 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of women held vigil outside wearing emerald panuelos (bandanas), which have come to symbolise the abortion rights movement in the region.[5] Today the world was watching but Argentina’s senators failed. By rejecting the bill they have missed an unprecedented and landmark opportunity for Argentina to affirm fundamental rights of women and girls by ending the criminalisation of abortion that undermines women’s right to life and health and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.[6]

Today and every day, the Solidarity Alliance for the Right to Safe Abortion are in solidarity with abortion rights campaigners in Latin America. Argentina’s vote was not a choice between abortion and adoption as pro-lifers would have us believe; it was between safe and unsafe, it was about choices and control over our bodies, and for many women life or death. Criminalising abortion does not prevent it from happening; it makes abortion unsafe. In Argentina official figures from the Ministry of Health suggest 500 000 clandestine or illegal abortion are performed each year, representing an estimate of 40 percent of all pregnancies.[7][8]Decriminalising abortion and liberalising abortion legislation is integral to women’s health and rights.

  • While expressing our solidarity with abortion rights activists in Argentina we reiterate the call for the removal of conditionality and restrictions in abortion law throughout Latin America.
  • We call for the recognition of a women’s right to safe abortion as a human right by all parties concerned.
  • We urge all decision makers to prioritise all women’s reproductive rights, including the right to safe abortion so that no woman suffers from the life-threatening complications of unsafe abortion and no woman dies from lack of access to safe abortion.
  • We call for assurances, guarantees and protection of all women’s right to life, health, freedom from discrimination, bodily integrity and autonomy.
  • We call for universal access to contraceptive services, including emergency contraception, of high quality and variety, is user friendly and appropriate to the needs of women, including young women.
  • We call for guarantees of universal access to affordable health care, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services including safe abortion services for all women.

[1] Camila Gianella Malca, Rachel Sieder, Angelica Penas, Marta Rodriguez de Assis Machado, A new conservative social movement? Latin America’s regional strategies to restrict abortion rights, 2017, CMI Brief

[2] Guttmacher, 2018, Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean Fact Sheet, accessed 8 August 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-latin-america-and-caribbean

[3] Katy Watson, No going back: The two sides in Argentina’s abortion debate, BBC News, accessed 8 August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45096704

[4] Freiburger, Calvin. “Argentina Schedules Vote for Abortion Legalization amid Pressure from World Bank, Feminist Groups.” LifeSiteNews. Accessed August 08, 2018. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/argentina-schedules-abortion-vote-amid-pressure-from-world-bank-feminist-gr.

[5] Katy Watson, No going back: The two sides in Argentina’s abortion debate, BBC News, accessed 8 August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45096704

[6] “Argentina: Decriminalize Abortion.” Human Rights Watch. June 12, 2018. Accessed August 08, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/12/argentina-decriminalize-abortion.

[7] Ciara Nugent, Argentina Votes on Legalizing Abortion Tomorrow. Here’s What That Means for Women’s Rights Across Latin America, TIME, accessed 8 August 2018, http://time.com/5358823/argentina-abortion-vote-latin-america/

[8] Human Rights Watch, Abortion: Argentina, accessed 8 August 2018, https://www.hrw.org/legacy/women/abortion/argentina.html

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