#Aborto Legal Ya: Abortion Activism in Argentina

Over the last year, our conversations about abortion access and laws at an international level have focused on the damaging effects of the Global Gag Rule. Also known as the Mexico City Policy, this regulation was reinstated by President Trump early in his first term, after having been rescinded by President Obama in 2009. These are, of course, critically important conversations, as regulations such as the Global Gag Rule have prevented NGOs from distributing life-saving information about reproductive health care to women all around the world. But it’s also important to talk about cases where we’re making progress, which is what I want to share with you today.

Like many other Latin American countries, Argentina is a predominantly Catholic country, and even though its constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Catholic Church officials are frequently involved in political affairs. This influence has undoubtedly had an effect on national reproductive rights policy—but perhaps not in the way that you think. When I attended a Catholic school in Argentina in 2007, sexual education was surprisingly comprehensive, particularly in comparison to the United States. Teens in my high school in the Patagonian province of Río Negro knew that the morning after pill was available over the counter at pharmacies, at fairly reasonable prices. Birth control pills could also easily be purchased without a prescription, if you were willing to have a short chat with a pharmacist. Many public hospitals and health centers offered birth control pills, morning after pills, and condoms free of charge. In short, really impressive! Except for the one option that wasn’t discussed: abortion.

Legally speaking, Argentina allows abortion in cases of danger to the mother’s life, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. Practically, the application of this policy depends on the views (in some cases one might say whims) of the court system, and has predictably disastrous results. Abortion activists in Argentina claim that access to abortion is relatively easy for wealthy, urban patients, but people from poorer and more rural backgrounds are barely able to access even the most basic information about abortion. This, in turn, leads to unsafe clandestine abortion procedures. Some of the most recent figures report that about 80,000 patients per year are hospitalized due to post-abortion complications—and then face legal punishment on top of this. A study conducted by the Argentine Ministry of Health suggested that for every woman who seeks medical attention due to abortion complications, seven others do not. Major news cases have shown that when pregnant Argentineans do attempt to petition for access to a legal abortion, the process is mired with delays and setbacks, leading to painful, inhumane results. More than 3,000 Argentine women have lost their lives due to unsafe abortions since the early 80s.

It’s a bleak picture, and it weighed heavily on my mind as I traveled back to Argentina in late January to conduct research for my Ph.D thesis. Just over two weeks into my stay, I was privileged to witness a massive demonstration of just how far Argentineans have come in the fight to secure this right.