Argentina: For the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion
Since 2005 feminist and women’s movements in Argentina have been working tirelessly to articulate and promote the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. AWID spoke to Claudia Anzorena, a sociologist and activist, about the Campaign and its goals and achievements.
By Gabriela De Cicco
September 28 is the Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a Campaign that has been coordinated at the regional level for several years. Each country in the region undertakes different actions on this day depending on the progress or setbacks with regard to sexual and reproductive rights in the country. The goal, with its nuances, is that legal and safe abortion is recognized throughout LAC as a reproductive right, “intrinsic to those human rights that must be exercised in the framework of affirming secular states promoting social justice and gender equality”.
AWID: Could you describe the current situation of sexual and reproductive rights in Argentina?
Claudia Anzorena (CA): Argentina has two laws, which are the result of several years of activism, struggles and the passing of different legislation in different provinces. Law 25.673 created the National Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in 2003, and Law 26.150 established the National Programme for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in 2006.
However, these programs face problems in their implementation, due to regressive pushes by conservative and religious groups, for instance, doctors who invoke moral reasons and do not inform or prescribe contraception to women; or teachers and parents opposed to their children being given sexuality education at school. Also, as this is not a government priority, there is a lack of political will and the resources required to expand its implementation. In Argentina, the Catholic Church has actively opposed extending rights to women and persons of non-conforming sexuality, particularly those related to sexuality.
AWID: Do these laws include access to abortion?
CA: No, they do not. Abortion has been criminalized since 1921, (Article 86 of the Penal Code) with three exceptions: when the life or health of the pregnant woman are at risk, and when the pregnancy was the result of a rape or abuse against a woman with a mental disability.
But even in the cases in which it is legal women still have difficulties in accessing abortion. Often they are taken to court unnecessarily or restrictive interpretations about the causes emerge - enabled by the ambiguity of the text - impeding access to legal abortion for girls or women with mental disabilities.
Women who come to a hospital with an abortion in progress, be it self-induced
After several cases were made public (including LMR and Ana Maria Acevedo) and the State had to take a position, the federal Ministry of Health produced a humanitarian post-abortion care guide and a Guide for Care in Non-punishable Abortion Cases, but they are barely enforced.
It is estimated that 500,000 unsafe abortions take place in Argentina every year. In this context, Argentina has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in Latin American - double that in Uruguay or Chile. And the main cause of these deaths is unsafe abortion complications. Since Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983, more than 3,000 women have died from clandestine abortions. International human rights bodies have challenged Argentina about this situation and have recommended it amend its laws on this issue.
AWID: What was the socio-political context when the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion was launched, and what are its goals?
CA: In December 2001, the crisis in Argentina renewed social and popular mobilization. In this context, old and new feminist groups and organizations fervently raised one of their key demands: the legalization of abortion and sexual and reproductive rights.
The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion has its origins in the Encuentros Nacionales de Mujeres (ENM) (National Women’s Gatherings) an annual meeting in different parts of the country, bringing together approximately 25,000 women from very different backgrounds.
The Campaign began taking shape during the ENM in Rosario (2003) and Mendoza (2004) and is now a broad federal alliance, articulating and partly recovering the history of our country’s struggles for the right to legal, safe and free abortion. The Campaign was launched in Cordoba on May 28, 2005, and since then it has the capacity and the strength to simultaneously coordinate actions across the country under the theme “Sexuality education to decide; contraception to not abort; legal abortion to not die”.
The Campaign operates as a kind of “umbrella”, a national platform for solidarity and support to the activities taking place across the country. We are present in 17 of the 24 provinces. And while it was launched by feminist groups now there are 300 social organizations working in and supporting it, including, among others, human rights organisations, academics, unions, and student organizations.
As a public health, social justice and women’s human rights issue, our main goal is to legalize and decriminalize abortion. We spent two years discussing and developing a law proposal that includes voluntary interruption of pregnancy based on the woman´s decision during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and without any time limits in case of rape or risks to the woman’s health. It decriminalizes abortions undertaken by professionals with the women’s consent, and mandates the health system to guarantee those practices accepted by the law. This proposal was submitted to the National Parliament in Argentina and endorsed by 50 Members of Parliament (MPs) from all political parties in 2010. We are currently lobbying Parliament to encourage its speedy discussion and approval.
The Campaign introduced green as the symbolic colour of the struggle for legal abortion in Argentina and through different activities we raise awareness on the need to legalize abortion in the country.
AWID: Are you planning any activities for September 28th? What do you want to achieve this year with the Campaign?
CA: We are planning a concert by Liliana Felipe in Buenos Aires on September 28th. Liliana is an Argentinean singer living in Mexico who is very committed to human rights and women’s rights. This year the activities that will take place in different parts of the country are aimed at demanding that the MPs stick to their commitment to begin discussing the law proposal submitted by the Campaign this year. Our goal is to keep pushing for Parliamentary debate but also for social mobilization and to expand our constituencies.
We will conduct activities across the country in a coordinated and, as far as possible, simultaneous way, with information desks to gather signatures in squares, festivals, events and demonstrations. We want to promote discussions and be present at scientific fora and meetings and artistic and creative urban interventions, including participating in the next ENM, and being active in local, national and alternative media.
AWID: What have achievements of the Campaign been over the years? How do you see the Campaign being taken forward?
CA: One of the achievements is that the Campaign has lasted and expanded since 2005, which is important because we believe that abortion is an issue that involves the whole society and not just feminists. The relationships have not always been easy as it is a very heterogeneous space, with different political and ideological positions; however, the common goal always prevails over internal differences.
Another achievement is that women are daring to ask for help and little by little they understand it as a right. This has been quite evident in how different courts and the government have dealt with non-punishable abortions: they have had to take a position in favour of the law being enforced.
The UN Human Rights Committee issued a statement condemning the Argentinean State in the handling of the “LMR” case where a girl with a disability whose pregnancy was the result of rape was denied an abortion.
The Penal Legislation Commission of the National Lower Chamber organized public hearings in the Chamber; with Marianne Mollmann (Human Rights Watch) in November 2010 and with Luz Patricia Mejía (Special Rapporteur of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission) in July 2011. The Chamber committed to begin discussing the law proposal this year, 2011. It is the first time that a bill on voluntary interruption of pregnancy will be discussed by the Argentinean Parliament.
AWID: Do you know how the Campaign has been taken up in other parts of LAC?
CA: The September 28th Campaign sees activities in different countries across the region. Our Uruguayan compañeras did a similar campaign that resulted in the legalization of abortion by the Parliament but President Tabaré Vazquez vetoed it. Now they are struggling again and the current President has committed not to veto. Legalization was also achieved in Mexico City.
Share your thoughts/ ideas with us:
What are your thoughts on campaigns such as this? What should be done to ensure the universal right to legal, safe and free abortions?
Translated from Spanish by Translingua
 “During the 5th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Gathering (San Bernardo, Argentina, November 18-24, 1990) at the Abortion Workshop, convened by the Commission for the Right to Abortion (Argentina) and Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Uruguay) and attended by feminists from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru, it was agreed to declare September 28th as the Day for the Right to Abortion for Latin American and Caribbean Women. In 1993, during a meeting promoted by the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network (RSMLAC) and facilitated by Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (CDD) a Regional Coordination was established. The position of Coordinator rotates among member organizations, five of which have already held it.”