The Legalization of Abortion in Argentina will Benefit Thousands of Women

A demonstration in support of legal abortion in Argentina. Credit: Demian Marchi/Amnesty International

A demonstration in support of legal abortion in Argentina. Credit: Demian Marchi/Amnesty International

By Nelly Minyersky
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 8 2018 (IPS)

We are at an historic moment in Argentina, a turning point in the path of women’s rights.

Although women in Argentina enjoy a regulatory framework that can be considered progressive in Latin America (regardless of its efficiency and/or effectiveness), it is clear that criminalization of abortion (Art. 86 of the Criminal Code of the Nation) constitutes a flagrant violation of a plethora of rights that are legitimately ours and which are enshrined in the National Constitution and Human Rights Treaties. These texts form a body of constitutional rules and regulations that include the right to freedom, equality, autonomy, to freedom from discrimination, to public health, family planning, etc.

For decades, Argentine women have been fighting to break the iron fist that attempts to decide our destiny and our life choices for us. One sector of society and the state exercise power over the lives and autonomy of women without mentioning the illegitimacy and immorality of their position, turning legitimate behaviour (such as sexual relations) into potentially criminal action.

These people do not understand that when the human rights platform is expanded (such as through the decriminalization and legalization of abortion), no-one is forced to exercise those rights. The beliefs and conscience of each individual empowers them to invoke such rights or not, as they see fit. Maintaining the current situation therefore involves imposing beliefs on a wide sector of society, with the state interfering in the private lives of pregnant women.

Through their action, the anti-rights or “pro-life” sector, as they call themselves, imposes authoritarian restrictions on the life and destiny of a majority of women in our country. They prevent women from enjoying human rights that relate fundamentally to the most intimate, private and deep aspects of their personality: their sexual freedom, family planning, when, how and with whom to have children.

The tragedy is that these positions are held without any minimum or essential basis in the biological or legal sciences. They have tried, vexatiously, to place the embryo and/or fetus on an equal footing with women in all rights and aspects, and to give equal weight to the embryo and to the life of the woman, even though this latter physically exists and is a legal and moral person. In their presentations, they show videos which, in reality, are premature births and not abortions, they falsify statistics and refer to techniques that neither exist nor are practised in this country, with the sole aim of deceiving society.

Nelly Minyersky

They also incorrectly refer to Human Rights Treaties, particularly the Pact of San José, with regard to references to the right of a person as from the moment of conception. The proper interpretation of this article, as noted in the Pact itself and in the way in which the Convention was approved, makes it clear that this wording was intended to protect norms that already respected terminations taking place in Latin America.

We must also not forget that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the CEDAW Committee have both repeatedly called on the Argentine State to protect women and adolescents of all ages by making available to them the legal and other means that will help to prevent forced pregnancies and by amending abortion laws.

The draft Law on Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy is an enormous step forward in the recognition of women’s autonomy. It accepts the principles of bioethics, which are based on express recognition of human dignity as a founding principle. It completely decriminalizes consensual abortion up to and including week 14.

It maintains that women should not be penalized when they have been the victim of rape or where there is a risk to the mother’s life, and includes norms such as informed consent and the right of adolescents to seek medical care even without the presence of an adult (on the understanding that it is a bioethical duty to treat any person within the health system who, when faced with rejection, would clearly opt for the worst solution). It also includes a duty on the part of the health service to prevent, inform and support. In the context of a plural society, neither bioethics nor the law can be subordinate to “a moral duty”.

After decades of fighting for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion, spearheaded by members of the “National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion” (Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito) which, in recent years, has been calling for laws to be passed in this regard and has submitted draft bills on seven opportunities,  a debate and preliminary approval have finally been achieved in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies, with more than a million people of different genders and ages protesting in the streets of the city.

In accordance with our legislative procedure, the draft is now therefore being considered in the Senate, with a vote due on the 8th of this month. On that day, there will be two million people on the streets of Buenos Aires to support and demand approval of a law that the women of Argentina deserve.

Approval of this law, which already has preliminary legislative approval, will offer health and quality of life benefits to thousands upon thousands of girls, teenagers and women. We must not be afraid when debates result in an extension of rights, and in full equality before the law and in life.