Women of the feminist movement in Argentina celebrate the approval of legal abortion in the country's lower house, on December 11, 2020, days before the bill's arrival in the Senate. Photo: HCDN / Fotos Públicas

Legal abortion: the feminist struggle in Argentina reaches a turning point

New legislation on the topic may influence other Latin American countries

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When Maradona died in November of this year, a small controversy arose while millions paid tribute to Argentina’s. Many feminists carried their sadness to social media platforms around the farewell acts for the player – you have to be a hermit in that country not to know that Maradona was an abusive man towards many women in his life. However, this movement did not change what Maradona represents for the country’s national identity: the hand of divine providence that, in a pass, restored pride to a nation humiliated by a war designed by military men cling to a dying regime. To truly understand what legal abortion means for the country’s feminist movement, it is necessary to know its history and know that Argentine women were the first to fight against dictatorship. 

**UPDATE: Argentina’s Senate approves historic bill to legalize abortion**

Argentine feminists are pioneers in Latin America, creators of movements that transcend borders such as, for example, the ni una menos, which fights against impunity in cases of femicide and has lit women around the world, for years, in the struggle for equality. It was the struggle of Argentine women that shaped the characterization of femicide in the world’s legal history, showing that, often, gender is a defining factor in the tragic fate of victims.

Today’s movement of Argentine women who flood the news with their green handkerchiefs (symbol of the campaign) was born from “a forceps delivery” decades ago. They were the first to show the world the brutality of the military regime, going to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires every week to ask for their missing children. The Madres de Mayo did not stop ever.

Over time, they became grandparents and continued to march. When it was already certain that they would not find their children, they continued to fight for the countless grandchildren born in the military regime’s basements and given up for adoption. Over time, these same grandmothers joined science and, if we now have DNA identification technology, it is necessary also to thank them for the development of such a discovery

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Today they march together with other Argentine women who are calling for the decriminalization of abortion.

They are women who do not bow to barbarism. The same women who did not think twice about exposing their breasts in downtown Buenos Aires in protest when police began to embarrass breastfeeding in public in the name of “good customs.” This is the soul of the Argentine woman. That is why they are so emblematic for the continent.

What many feminists want the world to understand is that it is not a matter of religious castration, nor an attack on masculinity, but rather the recognition that different genders are today subject to differences in freedom.

The fight for abortion’s (voluntary and free) legalization is not new. It is the ninth time that the topic will be considered in Congress by legislators (mostly middle-aged, white, and Catholic men). If the lower house’s approval has already been tight, this quarrel, scheduled to start on Tuesday, December 29, seems to be even more difficult in the Senate.

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Nothing that prevents these women from, in the middle of a pandemic, to keep a watch at the Congress door, by the thousands, with posters that ask the Church to “take its rosary from their bodies.” Just as the pandemic does not prevent women who believe that life begins at conception from doing the same, with their sky blue handkerchiefs, against the bill’s approval.

The law would provide a new legal framework, alleviating calvaries such as the one of “Lucia,” a pseudonym given to the girl born in the impoverished North of Argentina who was raped by her grandfather, and who, at the age of 11, was physically unable to deliver a baby. At the end of last year, she spent a month in a hospital waiting for the court order that authorized abortion to be fulfilled, embarrassed by pro-life groups, and gaining unwanted notoriety by pro-abortion groups. This situation extended the child’s via crucis, while local doctors refused to comply with the court’s decision. 

If, on the one hand, the sending of the proposal by Argentine President Alberto Fernández to Congress is considered populist and inopportune by detractors of the bill, on the other hand, the proposal would establish clear guidelines for cases like Lucia’s. It gives doctors the freedom to choose whether to perform the procedure within safe deadlines and guidelines for the most vulnerable women’s necessary support.

The activists hope that the approval of the new legislation in Congress will warm up the discussion in other Latin American countries. In the region, only Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana provide for legal abortion. But the “gestation” of this idea has also been growing in countries with a strong Catholic tradition, such as Chile and Mexico, whose feminist movements are making significant progress but coming up against historical religious traditions.

Still, the question most frequently asked of journalists covering the region is: what effect would this have on Latin American countries?

It is possible that none at first. But if the legalization of abortion is approved in Argentina, the seed will be planted, and an idea will come out of it. This idea may take decades to flourish, but it will serve its purpose.

In Argentina, recent studies show that one in three children lives in conditions of poverty. For many women, the romantic notion of motherhood is a head-on collision with reality. Unwanted pregnancy is a biological prison.

Many pregnancies come out of abuse, rape, misinformation, and others happen by accident in an environment that no longer secures anyone financially. On a continent where many children are slaughtered by police violence or even starvation, they are worth more as a fetus under a political banner than as human beings who will grow up in unsanitary conditions. It is necessary to overthrow these ideological unicorns to give rise to a pragmatic argument. How many children “do time” in an adoption line? 

Latin America has come a long way in terms of women’s rights. Even so, it is men who legislate about the wombs, in a disproportionality of representativeness that comes from a long way. A chasm opens up between what should be and what is. In this sense, it is a matter of correcting historical inconsistencies in a continent that now have to legislate for what it should have been: a population with equal living conditions. 

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For many advocates of the new law, the matter goes beyond the region’s socio-economic conditions. It is an issue shaped by restrictions on individual freedom. For them, this decision is not up to men, but to those who biologically would have to carry the pregnancy forward. Instead, these men’s assessment should be restricted to the issues that concern them: the impact on the government’s budget and health system. 

Legislators who oppose the bill used the same arguments of social inequality and poverty to emphasize that women only abort, by this logic, because the state fails to support them. To circumvent this argument, President Alberto Fernández included what he calls the “Plan of the thousand days” in the proposal. 

In it, equitable measures will be adopted to support women who decide to continue with the pregnancy, including financial, health, education, and social support.

Freedom is a contagious concept. As the Brazilian author Cecília Meireles once wrote: “Freedom is a word that the human dream feeds, there is nobody to explain it and nobody who doesn’t understand it.” 

It is unknown how long it will take for this word to be recognized by a continent historically dominated by religious restrictions and silent governments.

Only one thing is certain: it is impossible to stop an idea. It does not die from gunshots or in wars; it can hibernate, but it does not die even in the hardest winter of intentions. 

For many women, pregnancy is what they call “sweet waiting.” For many others on this continent, the sweet wait is the creation of an idea of ​​freedom. 

Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes