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Socorristas en Red - Socorro Rosa: A feminist practice for the right to choose in Argentina

FRIDAY FILE : Abortion is illegal in Argentina, with three exceptions: when the pregnancy was the result of a rape or abuse against a woman with a mental disability and when the pregnant woman’s life or health are at risk. However, even these cases often end up before the Courts and women continue to undergo surgical clandestine abortions that put their lives at risk. AWID talked to feminist activist Dahiana Belfiori[1] about the feminist collective that is implementing safe accompaniment for women opting for medical abortion.

By Gabby De Cicco

AWID: When did the work of Socorristas en Red start and why was this feminist collective created?

Dahiana Belfiori (DB): Socorristas en Red – Socorro Rosa[2] - feminists involved in abortions (full name) is an Argentinean network of feminist groups and collectives providing information and accompaniment over the phone and in person to women who choose to have an abortion using Misoprostol - a drug that makes it possible to safely terminate a pregnancy during the first 12 weeks.

The network was created in early 2012, after several informal meetings between individual feminists and collectives active in the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion. Many of us have been doing accompaniment in an isolated, ad-hoc way, and we saw the need to organize and share information, knowledge and experience around these practices, as well as to streamline our criteria and build knowledge about our work. In a second plenary meeting held in February 2013 in Córdoba, the network took on its current name[3] and started to expand to other regions and cities across the country. In early 2014 we held our third plenary meeting in Neuquén adding 16 more areas/cities in the country.

We are activists advocating for the right to legal abortion in a country in which it is still illegal, because it affects women's right to freely decide about their bodies. In this context, we understand the socorro or pink relief as a way to ensure that women who decide on this practice will have safe information, and won't need to risk their lives or subject themselves to the will of doctors who - in a context of illegal abortions - make profits by unnecessarily performing surgical abortions. We want women to be spared the violence they are exposed to in this process.

AWID: Tell us about the accompaniment process? Why is this so important?

DB: Women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy contact us in different ways - through "word of mouth", our Facebook page or through our blog that includes the email addresses of the Socorristacollectives across the country. An in-person meeting, in a public place in any of the cities where Socorristas are active, is arranged where we discuss the safe use of Misoprostol. We provide her with information and advice so she can have a medical abortion wherever and whenever she chooses to do so.

The accompaniment process starts right from the moment a woman contacts us. In those first meetings, women find a space to be heard, share their doubts and get support. These meetings are also spaces for joint reflection and solidarity between those of us who are putting ourselves on the frontline for these abortions - both the Socorristasand the women we help. Accompaniment continues on the phone, and we make sure that every woman who decides to have a medical abortion is able to do so. For us it is key to provide accompaniment "from the beginning to the end" - we see it as an expression of sorority in this feminism we are inhabiting.[4]

AWID: Why Misoprostol?

DB: Misoprostol is a drug sold in Argentina under the commercial name of Oxaprost and is used to perform abortions in a safe and effective manner. It is used because the procedure is very simple and safe for women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, which can be done whenever and wherever women choose. It can be taken sublingually, orally or vaginally. This drug provokes uterine contractions that lead to the expulsion of the gestational sac. The use of Misoprostol is endorsed by the World Health Organization and by a wide international bibliography recommending medical abortion. Misoprostol abortion is a procedure involving the least complications and dangers for a woman's health and her obstetrical future.

AWID: Can the work of Socorristas and other similar initiatives be seen as challenging the legal system in the country? Do you come up against resistance from government or other actors?

DB: In Argentina, Article 86.1 and 2 of the Penal Code criminalises abortion except in the three instances mentioned above; therefore abortion continues to be illegal for most women. According to research and statistical estimates by the National Ministry of Health, between 400,000 and 500,000 women undergo abortions in Argentina every year.

The Pink Reliefscome out of this context. We are obstructing the unscrupulous and dirty business, of clandestine abortion, worth millions, that persists. We also deprive medical hegemony of its power; and forge friendly networks particularly in public but also in private health spaces, widening solidarity and partnering networks for the abortions that are taking place in spite of our country's restrictive and conservative laws.

This is why the Pink Reliefs also challenge the National Parliament. The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion - of which we are members – has placed the right to abortion, as a woman’s human right, on the public agenda. The Campaign has submitted the Bill for the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy[5] four times. Each time, several MPs from all the parties represented in the Parliament have endorsed it, but the Bill has not yet been discussed.

As the Pink Reliefs are information and accompaniment services for women who have decided to have an abortion, they are framed within the right to provide and receive reliable and safe information. They are also seen as a risk reduction policy, supported by different pre- and post- abortion counselling initiatives by women's and feminist groups that are working, to different extents, with the State. The National Ministry of Health has produced Care Guidelines for Legal Abortions[6] and also Post-Abortion Care Guidelines[7]. In both documents, the importance of offering women better quality care from a comprehensive sexual and reproductive rights perspective, as a key component of women's human rights and an obligation for all health practitioners, is highlighted. This is why we also understand the Pink Reliefs as part of a feminist educational effort; and of the struggle to legalize abortion in Argentina by broadening and consolidating supportive networks.

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[1] Dahiana is a member of Enredadera Colectiva Feminista, from Rafaela city, Santa Fe province, Argentina, and also of Socorristas en Red.

[2] T.N. The name Socorro Rosa comes from the extended network of shelters and organizations supporting women facing all forms of violence, created by Italian feminists or "Socorso Rosa" (Pink Relief). Socorristas en red is the network (red) of socorros rosas (Pink Reliefs) across the country.

[3] Our name is inspired by the accompaniment provided by feminists in the 60s and 70s. Challenging the dictates of heteropatriarchy, in Italy, France and the USA, they created counselling and accompaniment spaces for women who required abortions.

[4] Our Socorrista Statement, produced during our third plenary, says: "For us, the experiences and practices of abortion are repeated calls, modes of resistance that build and spread collective knowledge. Pink Reliefs are situated practices seeking to build embodied feminisms, to recover genealogies and to devise libertarian, radical and rebellious practices in action and sisterhood. We are involved in the flesh with the abortions that thousands of women undergo, providing information about the safe uses of Misoprostol, tuning in with unbiased ears, travelling across the trajectories of those decisions, weaving net/works that hold them and us. We seek to remove the drama from the complex event of abortion and make visible what fundamentalisms of all kinds would rather keep in silence. We contribute to abort the prejudices about abortion, to untie the knots of guilt and to forge different subjectivities with and between the power of women. We locate the autonomies in our bodies and lives as an aspiration, knowing that the margins and experiences of autonomies are always relational and relative and, in that complex web, we are always interested in expanding them.”

[5] IVE in Spanish



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