This article is written by Apurv Umredkar, a law graduate from KIIT School of Law, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
The recently introduced Bill
Argentina’s Senate (Upper House) recently passed a bill that decriminalizes abortion upto 14 weeks of the pregnancy, making the country – largest one in Latin America to decriminalize abortion. The introduction of this bill undoubtedly marked the victory in the long lost right to access reproductive health services across Argentina. The move was the result of years of tussle and struggle for modifications in Abortion Laws in Argentina. It all started with #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less) trend on Twitter years ago while protesting and demonstrating their widespread anger for the 2016 incident of brutal rape, murder and drugging of a 16-year-old girl named Lucia Perez in Argentina & another similar incident involving a 14-year-old victim named Chiara Paez, who was found buried in her boyfriend’s house.
The Bill became the talk of the town across whole Argentina. In addition to providing facilities to women, the bill seeks to provide all the facilities to persons capable of giving birth. That means the benefit will be given to transgenders also. It was passed by the Chamber of Deputies (Lower House) in early December, 2020. After a long overnight discussion over the amendment, the bill was declared as passed by both houses on the wee hours of morning. The voting saw a ratio of 38 to 29, with the majority in support of the decriminalisation.
On the day of declaration, huge crowd gathered in front of the Argentinian National Congress’s building (Congreso de la Nación Argentina) in Buenos Aires- the capital of Argentina, containing both the Pro-Abortion activists as well as Anti-Abortion groups. The former belonged to the left extremist group (Left wing ideology) in the country and the latter consisted of Right Extremist Group (Right Wing Ideology). The televised version of declaration announced “Resulta Afirmativo” (Positive Result) which created festival and celebration like vibes among the pro activists crowd.
It simultaneously sparked a sense of joy and fulfillment and also gave tears of emotional satisfaction that now they will legally be able to approach and avail abortion services which will also take care of their safety and health. The Anti-Abortion individuals were stunned after the announcement as they didn’t expected such a bill would not pass muster. The Pro-Choice activists wore Green coloured masks, clothes and flags. The colour is used to denote Pro-Abortion technicalities since long time of beginning of the movement and hence the movement came to be known as Green Wave.
The Green Nexus and public response
Now across Latin America, the colour green is symbolized as a fight for woman’s rights. The reason of the nexus between women’s rights and the colour Green is not very peculiar. But over the years, as the women’s activists and the organization grew so did the colour Green in becoming a symbol and identity of Women Empowerment. On the other hand, the groups who opposed the decriminalization of abortion laws represented themselves wearing Blue coloured shirts and flags which also resembles with the colour of the Argentinian National Flag. Various famous activists belonging to both Pro as well as anti-abortion groups released their statements and expressed their opinion in this drastic step taken by the Government of Argentina.
All the women took to the streets to express their feelings of anguish due to the injustice and trouble caused to the them since ages. The director of Amnesty International Argentina Mariela Belski who also happens to be the Ambassador of a woman’s empowerment group encouraged this step and stated that the country has made a remarkable approach in securing the women’s rights in their democracy. Claudia Pinerio, an author and pro-abortion activist said this will be a historic step in the country for securing justice for women. “The approval of this bill will stop us from being used as birthing machines and allow us to be treated as human beings with a right to decide over our own bodies and destiny” said Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, a popular and famous Argentinian author.
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch said that the legalization will send a strong signal to other Latin Nations that it is possible to legalize abortion. Famous Argentinian Lawyer Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta prominently supported the move and wore Green bands in support of the Government’s Action. She aims to paint the whole Latin America Green (the sentence conveys that she wants the whole Latin American continent to legalize abortion for betterment of women therein.)
On the contrary, several anti-abortion activists criticized this move. An anti-abortion activist named Agostina López opposed the bill and put emphasis on the fact that taking one’s life is not at all feasible to secure the rights of other people and that justice cannot be achieved by compromising one’s rights in favour of another. Karina Marolla, an anti-activist pronounced that voting in favour of killing someone surely infringes the constitutional and democratic values of the society. Slogans like – ‘Murderers’ and “Women carry a child, a human, and not a rabbit whom one can kill so easily.” were being screamed at the Pro-Choice Activists.
The Catholic Persuasion
Before the introduction of this law, Argentinian women complained of being poorly treated by hospitals and medical staff. Many a time, the women were denied access to abortion inspite of all documents being clear and no legal intricacy involved. The implementation of the provision of the bill will now enable millions of women across the nation to avail and secure their right to reproductive health services. The older laws allowed for abortion only in certain cases like rape, or ill health condition or danger to woman’s life, non following of which entailed punishment of imprisonment upto fifteen years.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate during the Presidency of Mauricio Macri in 2018, but was declined with a very close margin. The reason behind this rejection pertains to the fact that deep-rooted religious fervour across Argentina doesn’t allow or let go of laws and regulations made in contravention to the principles of their majority religion. It is a deeply religious country with almost 92% of the population identifies themselves as Roman Catholic. The country identifies Roman Catholicism as a state religion and therefore the laws and bye-rules are made keeping in mind the permissibility in the religion. It is also the home to Pope Francis of Rome. As a matter of fact the bill created a huge rift among the supporters and opposers of the bill.
Due to heavy pressure from Catholic Churches and Right Wing groups, the senate was in intense pressure regarding the approval of the bill as they affect the decision making culturally, politically and religiously. The Pro-choice activists were vehemently opposed by their opponents Anti-Abortion activists). Pro team included the Current President of Argentina and popular leftwing ideology politician Alberto Fernández, Vice – President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and supporters of Kirchnerism and Peronism along with several Left Ideology groups.
The anti-abortion team consisted of Right Extremist individuals and organizations of the country along with the Catholic Church. By figures, the people opposing the bill were much greater in number because it had the support of the Church (which dominantly controls the religion aspect across all of Argentina), and therefore it was a much difficult task for the Members of Senate to outgrow the conscience of the Church. The Catholic Church is a pristine institution and it prominently affects the political system of this country.
The gravity of this matter can be judged from the fact that it took much more time for Argentina to implement laws on Divorce Laws, LGBT Laws and other Sex Education Laws which other South American countries had already constituted in themselves. Nevertheless, The Constitution of Argentina permits freedom of religion and therefore one must not be shocked if a law apropos abortion is passed in a catholic country like Argentina. Because the matter here is not any religion or spiritual path, but of dignity and right to life of a woman.
Expulsion of Charges
The aftereffects of the bill lead to dropping charges against women accused of doing illegal abortion practices across Argentina. Following the landmark modification in the legislation, the Argentinian Government decided to set free hundreds of women that are either in the jail passing their sentence or are facing harsh trials of abortion charges. The main benefit will be accrued to the women belonging to marginalized and poor section of the society. These are the ones that are most severely affected due to criminalisation of abortion. But according to the pro-choice activists, the fight for justice to women is not over yet because the ill elements of the sexist nature and discriminatory point of view still exists in the society.
No matter how many policies, plans and strategies we bring for women until and unless the thought pattern and patriarchal notion is rooted out, nothing much will change on the ground level. The step by the Government also surrounds itself by the controversies. Being one of the largest countries of the South American continent, it has a strong influence on its population and due to the majority religion of Roman Catholicism, the legislation, rules and statutes are largely affected. After the implementation of the said amendment, abortion will now be legally accessible upto fourteen weeks period irrespective of the reason of pregnancy. The scheme will be available not only to women, but also to transgenders and non-binary people who can procreate. There are also some women charged of murder for doing abortion. The same are going to be covered under the new law and shall be released upon the implementation of law.
Impact on Latin American Countries
Various subject experts and professionals are of the view that the emergence of this much awaited measure will surely trigger invoking of necessary modifications apropos. Abortion Laws across the South American Continent. Argentina occupies much bigger landmass than its other neighbouring countries. By an estimate, it covers more than the total area of Mexico along with the state of Texas combined. This comparison is enough to guess that the country plays a huge role in the geopolitical concurrences of the whole of Latin America. The commencement of liberal abortion regulations will help in creation of similar laws in various jurisdictions of Latin America.
Countries like Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Guatemala and Venezuela permit abortion only in cases of danger to a woman’s life. While the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua completely banned the process of abortion in their respective jurisdictions. In Mexico also, abortion is banned across the nation apart from the capital Mexico City and the State of Oaxaca. Now with the emerging new decade, a ray of hope can be seen by the women and abortion activists. Several women who belonging to South American countries are now travelling to Argentina for undergoing the procedure of legal abortion because still the majority of countries in the continent have strictly criminalized abortion.
Recently, news came that a woman from Brazil is preparing to go to Argentina for accessing the reproductive health service of abortion legally and hassle free, without any further criminal charges. Earlier the Latin American women would have to acquire Visa and required other formalities to be completed in order to procure safe and legal abortion in the United States. Now South America’s women can easily obtain abortion services in Argentina.
Surmounting Need for this Reform
The need for new and advanced regulations concerning abortion pertains to the fact that South America accounts for a very high number of illegal and unsafe abortions across the world. As per the estimates, 6.5 million abortions were done each year from 2010-2014 in Latin America and the annual rate is estimated at 44 per 1000 women of reproductive age (15-44). More than 97% of the women (of reproductive age) in Latin America and Carribean region live in countries which are least tolerant apropos abortion accessibility. These include Colombia, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, Paraguay, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua among others.
Nearly 14 million unwanted pregnancies occur each year in Latin American region, out of which 46% eliminates due to abortion. These estimates screamingly call for reformed abortion and reproductive health laws which will enhance the life and living expectancy of women and decrease the injustice faced by them due to their being pregnant. There’s a need to make people aware (especially girls and women) about the truths of abortion and the technicalities involved in it. Apart from broadening the safe and legal access to abortion, access to family planning, healthcare and proper post-abortion services and remedies must be made available by the competent authority of that jurisdiction or area.
Overall, the new legislation will enable women to live with dignity and have more autonomy over their personal choices regarding abortion and reproductive health services. The Feminist and similar organizations across Argentina have been waiting for such law to be implemented in their country. Much of the credit for initializaing the bill goes to the current President Alberto Fernándezand his Left Wing political associates which didn’t let their rulemaking machinery fall for the pressure and dominance of the Catholic Church.
The drastic step is attracting attention from not only Latin America but from all over the world. And this surely going to help Argentina’s neighbouring countries in introducing and implementing similar policies related to abortion. Latin America’s largest Countries like Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela should take a note on abortion matters from Argentina. We might see a few more legislation and amendments in these countries which need reform the most. Until then, one can hope for a brighter future and avoid his/her best possible to fall into the trap and compulsion of procedure of abortion.
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