Abortion Legalized in Argentina
AFTER DECADES OF STRUGGLE on the part of pro-choice activists, in a historic move that made news across the globe, Argentina in late January 2021 become only the second democratically elected government in South America to legalize abortion. Ensuring access up to the 14th week of pregnancy— with an extended timetable for instances of rape and the parent’s health risk during pregnancy—the legislature’s Dec. 30 passage of the law made Argentina the largest nation in Latin America to have legalized the procedure.
The landmark legislation follows the attempted passage of a similar bill in 2018—a near success that, while leaving pro-choice activists disheartened, only strengthened their resolve. Regrouping in 2019, pro-choice, LGBTQ and feminist movements throughout the country organized and fought for the defeat of anti-choice President Mauricio Macri in the upcoming election. Within a year the movement had drawn newly elected President Alberto Fernández into their camp, garnering his endorsement of legalization before the close of 2020.
COVID-19 lockdowns hindered the ability of activists to organize as the bill moved toward a vote in late 2020. Supporters feared a lack of physical presence to apply pressure could negatively impact the years of effort to build back after the defeat of 2018. With the Foundation for the Study and Research for Women estimating that only 20-25% of Argentina’s 350,000- 450,000 abortions could be categorized as legally obtained, this life-threatening issue remained up in the air until the end of December.
Though supporters are relieved and elated after years of work, international observers have advised continued vigilance. The Catholic Church in Argentina opposes the law, while health professionals and doctors are legally capable of conscientiously objecting to performing the abortions unless a person’s life is in danger. In addition, a portion of the law stipulates that health centers with staff unwilling to perform abortions must refer potential patients to abortion clinics that will. With opposition expected in the country’s more conservative provinces, reproductive rights activists are on high alert, even as they celebrate a long and hard-fought victory.