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Argentina abortion bill demonstration
courtesy of La Red de Profesionales de la salud por el Derecho a Decidir

Pro-choice activists discuss Argentina’s historic abortion bill

The groundbreaking bill, which would legalise abortion up to 14 weeks, was passed by the country’s lower house earlier this month, and is now in its final stages

In the early hours of December 11, Argentina’s lower house passed a landmark abortion bill, submitted by the country’s left-wing president, Alberto Fernández. Pro-choice activists, wearing a sea of green – a symbol for women’s rights and the pro-choice campaign – had gathered outside congress to await the verdict. When the bill passed with 131 to 117 votes at the end of a 20-hour debate, their reaction, and that of supporters watching the televised announcement countrywide, has been described as a “tsunami of joy”.

“I was with two of my best friends,” Dana, one 24-year-old activist from Argentina, tells Dazed. “I didn’t sleep all night and we cried happy tears when we saw the results.”

The bill is set to make Argentina the first major Latin American country to decriminalise voluntary abortion up to the fourteenth week of pregnancy. Currently, abortion is only legal in cases where the pregnancy causes danger to the person, or is the result of abuse or sexual violence. Even then, “the ultimate decision to abort remains in hands of the health professionals instead of the patient, giving rise to multiple uses and abuse of power,” explains a spokesperson for La Red de Profesionales de la salud por el Derecho a Decidir (The Network of Health Professionals for the Right to Choose).

In 2018 alone, Argentina reported 35 deaths from unsafe or clandestine abortions, the network adds, calling the deaths “completely preventable” by the new law. In 2016, almost 40,000 people were also admitted to public hospitals due to health issues arising from abortions or miscarriages, according to Human Rights Watch

“If I have to chose between motherhood when I’m not ready and risking my life in an unsafe abortion in some sketchy clinic, I’m not making a free decision,” says Dana. “We need guarantee that any woman – no matter where they live, their age, their economic class – will have access to an abortion if she needs one. How are we going to have an equal, free society if some of us can’t even decide what to do with our own lives?”

Despite passing through the lower house, the new abortion law isn’t set in stone yet. The bill is now subject to a debate in Argentina’s senate, scheduled to take place on Tuesday (December 29). While many are hopeful that the government-sponsored bill will pass, a similar abortion bill was voted down by the senate after passing through the lower house in 2018. 

Even if the bill does pass this time around, Dana says, “the fight won’t be over,” since conservative groups will continue to apply pressure. The Network of Health Professionals for the Right to Choose adds that Argentina’s leadership: “suffers from a very high percentage of deeply conservative legislators, whose arguments against the rights of women, and other people capable of gestating, have an almost exclusively moral and religious support.”

Full access to safe abortions also requires social and cultural change, the organisation explains. “We know that the fight for the guarantee of rights does not end with the sanction of this law. Social transformation must go much deeper.”

Just as social media helped spread the word about gender-based violence and femicides in Argentina in 2016, it’s played an important role in changing perspectives on abortion over the past few years. A hashtag can’t replace the party-like demonstrations of pro-choice activists in the streets, Dana says, but online activism has helped educate people and break down stigma. “Before that, people never talked about abortions. There was no information because it was so taboo. People thought abortions meant vaccuuming a 8 month old baby out of the womb.” 

“Thanks to activism and social media we were able to understand how complex this topic was. We were able to access education, and understand how it’s done and why someone chooses to get one.“ She notes that anyone can support Argentina’s abortion bill ahead of the senate’s December 29 vote, via the frequently-used hashtags “#QueSeaLey” (let it be law) and “#AbortoLegal2020”.