by Rana Irby
The Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Bill (Ley de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo) was passed by Argentina’s Senate on December 30th, 2020, legalizing abortion in the country during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Prior to the vote, abortion in Argentina was only allowed in the case of pregnancy risking the life of the mother or if it resulted from rape. The legislation comes after years of struggle between women’s rights activists pushing for abortion legalization and pro-life activists. Over the years, that struggle has reflected the tension between two paradigms of anti-violence, resulting in law which overlooks abortion as violence against women and children.
After a prior vote of approval in November by the Chamber of Deputies, the Argentine government’s lower house, the abortion legalization measure won approval in the Senate 38-29. Supporters lauded the measure as a step toward increased rights for the country’s women, especially in light of many cases of misogynistic violence. For we who stand up for life from womb to tomb, it is a blow in the fight to save both mother and child. These two views have shaped the abortion debate in Argentina for years.
Outside instances of rape and serious health risks, women who obtained abortions in Argentina previously faced criminal charges. Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s President, cited the negative outcomes of such policy as rationale for introducing the legislation. Such outcomes, he noted, included a disproportionate number of poor and vulnerable women facing the legal consequences of abortion criminalization and more than 3000 women dying from illegal abortions since 1983. This, coupled with the already galvanized movement against gender-based violence, helped push abortion legalization forward.
This can be seen, for example, in Cecilia Nowell’s Al Jazeera profile of Argentina’s anti-femicide and preeminent feminist movement “Not One Less” (“Ni Una Menos”), noting that the movement’s first women’s strike was inspired by the push for increased abortion access in Poland and the 2016 rape and murder of an 16-year-old Argentinian girl. Furthermore, the movement’s founder, Cecilia Palmeiro, is noted in the piece as connecting activism against gender-based violence with activism for abortion. The pro-life movement pushed against the abortion bill as not respecting either the unborn or women. The struggle between these two views showed the former gaining more traction than the latter. Even in the research for this piece, this author found fewer references to the argument against violence toward the unborn in comparison to arguments for the abortion bill being a victory for women’s rights.
In a profile on the debate in the Buenos Aires Times, sentiments among senators voting for the bill were represented as being focused on women’s bodily autonomy and acknowledging the reality of illegal abortion despite personal opposition to abortion. Only one senator was quoted in the piece as expressing the view of abortion as a “tragedy” that “abruptly ends another developing life”. In the end, the former sentiment won the day. The latter was left with a serious blow.
Among the measures in the law that can be seen as amenable to the pro-life view is the allowance for conscientious objection by doctors. In addition, the senate passed a “1000 day plan”, which will increase the social and economic resources for mothers and children up to the first 1000 days after a child is born). Despite such motions, the pro-life movement in Argentina has taken the new abortion bill as a loss in the fight for the unborn and their mothers. After a struggle over many years based in two differing views of anti-violence, Argentina has legalized an act of violence against women and children — abortion.