The cost of not approving legal abortion in Argentina

By Mariela Belski, Executive Director, Amnesty International Argentina

If Argentina approves the legalization of abortion, it will set a new standard of progress in the protection of women’s rights. This will bring it in line with the countries it is keen to emulate, such as the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which Argentina aspires to join. Indeed, Argentina is making a significant effort to fulfill the OECD membership criteria.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri initiated the debate on the legalization of abortion but has refrained from expressing a firm position on the issue. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies has given preliminary approval to a bill that seeks to decriminalize the termination of pregnancies up to 14 weeks. On 8 August, that bill will be debated in the Senate.

Yet the president has failed to anticipate the potentially significant consequences of not coming out in support of a particular position, instead allowing his lawmakers to vote with their consciences. This attitude has resulted in the emergence of divergent stances within the governing party. The vice president and the chief whip of the ruling party in the Senate are against the bill, while other key figures, such as the health minister, are in favour of it.

If Argentina approves the legalization of abortion, it will set a new standard of progress in the protection of women’s rights. This will bring it in line with the countries it is keen to emulate, such as the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

This internal struggle has also revealed how closely some sections of the government party agree with the stance of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. However, during the debate, senior Church figures have engaged in a campaign involving some highly questionable actions and strategies, ranging from the dissemination of incorrect information to proposing keeping the current legislation, which has been in force since 1921 and permits abortion only if there is a risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman, or in cases of rape.

It seems that there are some in Argentina who want to move in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. While the countries of Europe are strengthening legislation to guarantee the right of women to terminate their pregnancies (recently by referendum in Ireland, a country with a strong Catholic influence), the Argentine government has maintained an ambiguous position regarding the importance of legalizing abortion.

This ambiguity will have a very high price for the government domestically, too. The large-scale demonstration in support of decriminalization while the bill was being debated in the Chamber of Deputies made headlines around the world and Argentina’s pro-abortion movement is constantly gaining momentum. Indeed, in a survey conducted by Amnesty International, around 60% of respondents said they supported the legalization of abortion. In addition, more than 63% considered that the Church should stay out of the debate. The percentage of respondents holding this view rises to over 70% in key districts such as the City of Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires Province, two of the most important pro-government strongholds. It is striking that in both these administrative areas, the head of government and the governor expressly came out against the law.

The decriminalization of abortion is not a concession to women; it is a human rights imperative that Argentina has been ignoring for years.

In the region and the rest of the world, Argentina has been admired for its human rights policy since the 1980s. The country has progressive laws in areas such as equal marriage, gender identity, assisted reproduction, parental responsibility and compensation for domestic workers. Since the 1960s, the majority of countries around the world have been moving towards legalizing abortion, driven by a commitment to egalitarian values of respect for women's rights and the right to protection of health.

The decriminalization of abortion is not a concession to women; it is a human rights imperative that Argentina has been ignoring for years. The international treaties signed by our country demand it. Recognizing and defending women's rights is also an essential step to enter modernity once and for all and catch up with the developed countries that Argentina seeks to resemble.

This article was originally published in Spanish by Huff Post México