Right to abortion is one step closer to becoming law in Argentina

President Alberto Fernández sent the bill to legalize abortion to the National Congress for consideration on November 17

November 20, 2020 by Tanya Wadhwa
On November 18, thousands of women activists, feminists and LGBTQ community members mobilized across Argentina to urge the legislators to discuss the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy bill on an urgent basis. Photo: National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion

On November 18, thousands of women, feminist activists and LGBTQ community members mobilized across Argentina to urge the legislators to discuss the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (IVE) bill on an urgent basis. In the capital Buenos Aires, a massive pañuelazo or a march with green scarves, which represents the feminist struggle for legal abortion, was held in front of the National Congress as well as in front of the health ministry.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández, on November 17, sent the bill to legalize abortion in the country to the National Congress for consideration. Along with the IVE bill, President Fernández also sent the 1000-day Plan bill. This bill seeks to strengthen healthcare services and nutrition actions for mothers and newborns in the first 1,000 days starting from a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday.

With the presentation of these bills, President Fernández fulfilled the promise made to hundreds of thousands of women to decriminalize abortion and ensure their access to the right to comprehensive health care. During his election campaign, Fernández vowed to support all women and take care of the life and health of those women who decide to terminate their pregnancy as well as help those coming from vulnerable sections during their maternity.

Abortion is illegal in Argentina, but a ruling established in 1921 allows it to be performed until the 24th week of gestation in case of a rape and when the life of a pregnant woman is at risk. However, this doesn’t mean that abortions do not happen in Argentina or are guaranteed in cases where they are permissible by law.

Authorities estimate that every year over 500,000 abortions are performed in unsafe and clandestine conditions. Additionally, in the majority of cases where it is legal, different provinces, healthcare centers and medical professionals do not comply with the law because of their religious and moral objections.

Legalization of abortion and its nationwide implementation will definitely improve the situation in both the cases. With the progressive government of Frente de Todos in power, the integral right seems within reach and the feminist movements are hopeful about achieving it.

In a video posted on his social media platforms, President Fernández himself pointed out that “every year around 38,000 women are hospitalized after performing unsafe abortion and since the return democracy more than 3,000 women have died because of this reason.”

The head of the state stressed that “the legalization of abortion saves women’s lives and preserves their reproductive capacities, many times affected by unsafe abortions. It does not increase the number of abortions or promote them. It only solves a problem that affects public health.” He highlighted that “the legalization of abortion also allows, as it happened in Mexico City and Uruguay, reduction in abortions and deaths they cause. Providing coverage in the health system also facilitates access to contraceptive methods to prevent unintended pregnancies.”

He explained that “it does not imply an extra burden for the health system. The validated procedures that are used with WHO standards are mostly outpatient, non-surgical and pharmacological.” He argued that “the debate is not whether to say yes or no to abortion. Abortions occur clandestinely and put the health and lives at risk of the women who undergo them. Therefore, the dilemma that we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system.”

President Fernández’s announcements were celebrated massively by women, feminists, social movements and human rights organizations throughout the country.

Argentinian women have been demanding abortion rights for decades. On May 28, 2015, feminists and women activists founded the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. Since then, the organization has been at the forefront of the women’s struggle for the right to autonomy over their bodies and their lives.

In 2018, Argentina witnessed several massive mobilizations demanding legalization of abortion. In June 2018, the bill for Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (IVE) was approved by the House of Representatives with 129 legislators supporting it and 125 opposing it. However, in August 2018, the Senate rejected the bill by a margin of 38-31.

The new IVE bill

The new bill presented by the Executive has basic similarities to the one that received the approval of the deputies in June 2018. It has incorporated some perspectives that reflect the struggle of the feminist movements. However, it differs from the one proposed by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, which was present for the eighth time in 2019.

Like the 2018 bill stated, the new bill establishes a gestation limit of fourteen weeks (inclusive) to carry out the procedure. In addition, it adds that a pregnant person can access an abortion outside this term if her life is in danger or if the pregnancy is the product of rape.

The Campaign’s bill established that the procedure must be carried out on a person under 13 years of age with “their informed consent and with the assistance of at least one of their parents or legal representative.”  If the procedure is required by a person between 13 and 16 years of age, then their “consent is sufficient” as they are “presumed to have the aptitude and maturity to decide on the practice.” In this case, the consent of those legally responsible will be necessary for the type of procedure to be carried out. And the person over 16 years of age has full capacity to exercise the rights granted by this law. The bill presented by the president established the same.

Similarly, as suggested by the Campaign, the practice has been included in the Compulsory Medical Plan (PMO) so that any person who wants to access a safe abortion must have some minimum conditions guaranteed by health personnel. However, the Campaign’s bill established that the procedure must be done within five days after being requested, the new bill establishes a period of ten days for it.

The Campaign’s bill did not mention conscientious objection of the health professional since it was considered that if abortion is a right, it cannot be objected and must be guaranteed. It also established that in case the right to an abortion is not guaranteed or if it is delayed, the health professional should be penalized. The Executive’s bill does contemplate conscientious objection. It establishes that the health professional who doesn’t wish to perform the abortion must “refer the patient in good faith so that they be attended by another professional in a temporary and timely manner, without delay.” It adds that in the event that this point is not complied with, appropriate “disciplinary, administrative, criminal and civil sanctions” will be taken.

Unlike the Campaign’s bill, which reinforced the obligation to implement Comprehensive Sexual Education (ESI) law nationwide in schools, the president’s bill maintains that “the National State, the Provinces, the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires and the Municipalities have the responsibility of implementing Law No. 26,150 on Comprehensive Sex Education (ESI), establishing active policies for the promotion and strengthening of the sexual and reproductive health of the entire population.”