Argentina has made history in joining only a handful of South American nations to legalise elective abortion. After twelve hours of debate the Senate president Cristina Kitchener confirmed the vote on 30th December, a huge moment for a country with a historical Catholic sway.
The legalisation of abortion in Argentina now means that women will no longer have to seek alternative measures which have proven to be fatal with at least 3,000 women a year dying after dangerous illegal ‘backstreet’ abortions.
The bill succeeded despite huge opposition from Evangelical Christians and traditional Roman Catholics, with Pope Francis voicing his disapproval and encouraging the country’s legislators to reject the move before the vote. Thousands of pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators gathered outside the National Congress, eagerly awaiting the results as they watched the action on screens.
Pro-choice activists have campaigned since abortion laws that date from 1921. Pro-choice protester Sandra Lujan said after the vote “Today we have finally made history…Today we leave a better place for our sons and daughters”. Although the country is historically Catholic, including current president Alberto Fernandez, pro-choice protests and demonstrators have applied pressure on the government to expand abortion rights since laws made it an illegal practice in 1921. Fernandez stated that despite his personal faith, he must “legislate for everyone”, and could not ignore the number of women, believed to be near 38,000 each year, taken to hospital after having unsafe illegal abortions.
Argentina joins, Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana as the only countries in South America to allow voluntary abortion. South America has some of the toughest restrictive abortion laws with some countries criminalising women for having miscarriages. Many pro-choice campaigners hope the fact that Fernandez’s bill was passed in Argentina will spur neighbouring, similarly Catholic countries, onto bringing their women’s rights legislation into the twenty-first century.