In a Historic Vote, Argentina Legalizes Abortion

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina In 2018, Amnesty International of Argentina (AIAR), Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD), Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA) hosted a public hearing regarding reproductive rights laws in the country. This hearing, hosted alongside the IACHR, called upon the Argentine Congress to adopt a law legalizing abortion nationally.

Young pro-choice activists celebrating the passing of the abortion legalization bill. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

At the time, under the Argentine criminal code, abortion was legal in some provinces and only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk. However, no national standard had been set to provide all women with safe access to voluntary abortions. The IACHR asserted the importance for Argentina to enact a nationwide standard that coincided with the country’s international human rights obligations.

In 2018, Congress attempted to pass a sweeping bill that would provide abortion access, although it ultimately failed when it reached the Senate. However, the prospect of a second attempt arose in 2019 when President Alberto Fernández was elected. A large part of his running platform was reproductive rights and abortion access, making the statement “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone” during his campaign. In December 2020, he delivered on his promise.

The Argentine Senate passed a bill legalizing voluntary abortion up to 14-weeks in a 38-29 vote. The same day, the CIDH – IACHR expressed approval for the Argentine Senate passing the Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care. It stated that the passing of the law marked a new set standard for inter-American human rights which it hoped would influence Argentina’s neighbors.

President Fernández asserted that providing free and legal abortions was a public health matter, highlighting how many women die from undergoing dangerous and illegal abortion procedures. Alongside this bill, the Senate also passed a piece of targeted legislation titled the “1,000-Day Plan,” which provides higher quality healthcare to pregnant women and women with young children.

Despite the new sweeping measure, anti-abortion activists have made it a point to challenge the legislation on all fronts. They have made sure doctors know they can deny a woman an abortion, they have called the laws unconstitutional, and they have filed lawsuits in at least 10 provinces.

Doctors in northern Argentina, mostly in the Jujuy province, consider themselves “conscientious objectors” and have asserted that they will not provide the services for women who ask. Only a few obstetricians and gynecologists in the province will offer the care, leaving many women in the same circumstances as before the bill was passed. The most rural provinces, where women are most likely to suffer from clandestine abortions, are those opposing the bill.

It is believed that at least one of the lawsuits will make it to Argentina’s Supreme Court. Though it is not clear as to what might happen once it arrives. However, pro-choice activists have been pushing for this legislation for years, even changing the perspectives of once anti-abortionists. Former president and current Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner originally opposed a similar bill during her tenure as president but has since changed her position thanks to her daughter’s activism. This change was considered a big win for the pro-choice movement, and activists are hoping to continue this charge.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Argentina abortion: Senate approves legalization in historic decision – 30 Dec. 2020

CELS – iachr hearing on abortion: legalization is a human rights imperative – 9 May, 2018

CIDH – IACHR – IACHR approval of Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care tweet thread – 30 Dec. 2020

The New York Times – Abortion Is Now Legal in Argentina, but Opponents Are Making It Hard to Get – 7 Mar. 2021

Author: Nadia Abed