Argentina has become the first major Latin American country to legalise abortion on demand, putting the home of Pope Francis at the vanguard of a region that has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.
After an all-night session, the Senate voted on Wednesday to back a bill authorising the termination of pregnancies during the first 14 weeks, as well as in cases of rape and risk to the mother’s life or health.
Thousands of pro-choice activists rallied outside Congress ahead of the vote and celebrated their victory as the reform passed by 38 to 29, a wider margin than expected.
“This is a great win for women and diversity, for a movement that has been fighting for decades and that joined forces with a government that came to expand rights. Today Argentina is a fairer place,” said Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, minister for women, gender and diversity, amid the celebrations.
The abortion reform comes after five years of unprecedented feminist activism in Argentina, which found an ally in President Alberto Fernández, who promised his backing during the 2019 election campaign.
Vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner opposed the bill during her two presidencies but changed her mind during a previous attempt to pass the legislation in 2018. The Peronist duo actively supported the bill and lobbied senators to move to the pro-choice side of the argument.
Peronists Silvina García Larraburu and Sergio Leavy were among the senators who voted No in 2018, when a similar proposal was rejected by the upper chamber, but changed sides to tip the scales on Tuesday night. They cited openness to new points of view and precedents from other Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain that separated faith from legislation.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Natalia Gherardi, the leader of Buenos Aires-based NGO ELA, said the Senate vote marked a victory for women who had made themselves heard on the streets. “We have been defending these ideas for many years, thinking about our daughters, our students and the generations to come, whose voices are not often heard in political debates”.
She added: “The Argentine state subjected women’s decisions to its will due to a 100-year-old law, and this was simply not in line with the values of our democracy.”
In 2015, the feminist movement rallied hundreds of thousands of women under the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) motto, which called for an end to sexist violence, a topic rarely discussed in public.
“The extreme violence we see when a woman is murdered is linked to other subtler forms of violence. Denying women the right (to abortion) is also an attack on the freedom and autonomy of women to decide what to do with their own lives,” Ms Gherardi said.
The legalisation of abortion is the latest liberal reform for Argentina, a country that over the past decade has also legalised gay marriage and transgender identities.
Letter in response to this article:
Argentina’s social progress is heartening news / From Maria O’Donovan, Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland