The Coronavirus Outbreak Has Stalled Argentina’s Historic Effort To Legalize Abortion


1000’s of pro-choice activists, together with feminist teams from the U.S. and Chile, display in favor of decriminalizing abortion, outdoors Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Feb. 19, 2020.

Three weeks in the past, Argentina was getting ready to delivering an enormous victory to ladies’s rights advocates there and throughout Latin America: New President Alberto Fernández, who received election final yr, introduced in early March that he deliberate to make authorized abortion the primary main precedence of his presidency.

With robust majorities in Congress and growing public help behind the trouble, Argentina appeared primed to develop into simply the fourth nation in Latin America to legalize abortion ― and the biggest nation within the area to enshrine the correct into regulation.

Then the novel coronavirus hit Argentina and put a halt to these plans.

Argentina confirmed its first COVID-19 case on March 3, the week Fernández deliberate to introduce a invoice into Congress that might legalize abortion. 4 days later, Argentina grew to become the primary Latin American nation to verify a coronavirus-related dying. There are actually greater than 500 confirmed instances there, and not less than six confirmed deaths.

The outbreak has consumed Argentina and derailed Fernández’s legislative agenda. The brand new president shut the nation’s border to foreigners and mandated a nationwide quarantine till March 31. The Argentine legislature is closed for enterprise, and the way forward for a invoice that activists have pushed for years is more and more unsure.

The end result in Argentina, the place abortion is authorized solely in instances of rape, incest or if the mom’s life is in danger, might have implications throughout the Americas. Fernández’s choice to prioritize reproductive rights, whereas anticipated, had instilled hope in feminist teams all through the area that Argentina may present the type of breakthrough they’ve lengthy craved in a area the place 97% of ladies reside beneath restrictive abortion legal guidelines, based on the Guttmacher Institute, a analysis and coverage group that advocates for expanded abortion and contraception entry worldwide.

Amongst Latin America’s impartial nations, solely Uruguay, Guyana and Cuba enable unrestricted entry to abortion through the early levels of being pregnant. Many others enable abortion in restricted instances, together with when rape, incest or the well being of the mom is concerned, though it might probably nonetheless be tough to entry the process safely and legally even when it could not violate the regulation.

Current makes an attempt to increase abortion rights in Brazil and Colombia have stalled within the international locations’ prime courts, and the dominance of social conservatism and the prominence of the Catholic Church have helped thwart any effort to bolster reproductive rights throughout the area up to now.

But when Argentina ― the house of Pope Francis himself ― may efficiently legalize it, activists believed it’d kick-start a motion throughout the area and supply a robust instance of a rustic shifting ahead on abortion rights at a time when the Western Hemisphere’s largest nation, america, may quickly take a significant step backward.

“Argentina has affect over public opinion within the area,” mentioned Catalina Martínez Coral, the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean on the Heart for Reproductive Rights. “If the invoice in Argentina passes, it is going to affect different international locations to begin excited about this.”


A professional-choice activist holds an indication that reads in Spanish “Authorized abortion now” throughout a rally to legalize abortion outdoors Congress in Buenos Aires on Could 28, 2019.

Even with Congress set to start holding digital hearings and Fernández sustaining that authorized abortion is a precedence for his authorities, it’s unclear when ― or whether or not ― the laws will probably be launched or superior, particularly as Argentina’s efforts to shore up its already struggling financial system and search help from outdoors sources just like the Worldwide Financial Fund transfer to the highest of its listing of issues.

“In the mean time, it’s exhausting to think about dialogue of any points not associated to the financial disaster, the IMF and the general public well being emergency,” mentioned Benjamin Gedan, the director of the Argentina Mission on the Wilson Heart, a Washington coverage store.

Ardent abortion opponents have additionally tried to make use of the outbreak in opposition to Fernández, arguing that the virus is a divine prevalence in response to the trouble to legalize reproductive rights.

“They wished to legalize dying and dying came over them,” Amalia Granata, a well-known Argentine mannequin and native politician, tweeted final week.

Reproductive rights teams, nonetheless, have countered that the pandemic has bolstered their argument, particularly amid anecdotal reviews that already restricted abortion entry has been additional restricted amid the outbreak.

Argentina’s activists got here near profitable abortion rights two years in the past, once they drafted their very own legalization laws and pushed it via the decrease chamber of Congress. Nevertheless it narrowly failed within the Senate, partially, its backers believed, as a result of then-President Mauricio Macri refused to provide it his blessing.

However that struggle, a part of a renewed feminist motion throughout Latin America, energized ladies in Argentina, who’ve continued protesting for expanded rights since then. It additionally impressed hope {that a} president who supported their trigger may efficiently steer a legalization invoice to passage.

The influence of Fernández’s backing wasn’t simply political, mentioned Paula Avila-Guillen, the director of Latin America Initiatives on the Ladies’s Equality Heart.

“In a extra philosophical means, it’s very, very important for the motion,” she mentioned in an interview earlier than the outbreak started. “They’d been combating for this for over 10 years, and to lastly obtain the political help of an important determine within the nation ― simply think about for a second if we had been in america and Obama had been capable of introduce a invoice to codify Roe. You will need to the motion and to the nation [to say] that girls’s rights and reproductive freedom is a precedence.”


Pope Francis welcomes Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, left, throughout a non-public viewers on the Vatican on Jan. 31, 2020.

Though the sagging Argentine financial system dominated the 2019 election struggle between Macri and Fernández, the feminist motion that had emerged earlier than the 2018 abortion vote additionally made its presence identified. Waving the inexperienced flags which have develop into the image of Latin American feminism, Argentina’s ladies pushed Fernández and his working mate, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to undertake key elements of their agenda ― together with expanded abortion rights ― then helped push the leftist ticket to victory.

There are an estimated 500,000 abortions carried out yearly in Argentina, the place about 40% of the nation’s pregnancies are terminated, based on research.

Throughout Latin America, an estimated 6.5 million abortions happen yearly and 32% of pregnancies finish in abortion, based on the Guttmacher Institute. Only one-quarter of the abortions that occurred between 2010 and 2014 had been thought of secure beneath the World Well being Group’s standards, the institute has mentioned, and in 2014, issues from abortion procedures accounted for 10% of all maternal deaths throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

This isn’t about abortion, it’s about who can entry abortion. Everyone knows that the ladies who’ve cash can entry [it] all the time. That is about giving entry to those that can’t.Paula Avila-Guillen, Ladies’s Equality Heart

Illicit abortions are significantly harmful for poor ladies, who can’t entry good docs or pursue procedures in international locations the place it’s authorized. So feminist actions and Fernández additionally framed it as a difficulty of equality ― in an tackle to Congress this yr, Fernández known as it hypocritical to proceed blocking abortion when the rich already handle to entry it.

“He mentioned, let’s cease being hypocritical about it. This isn’t about abortion, it’s about who can entry abortion,” Avila-Guillen mentioned. “As a result of everyone knows that the ladies who’ve cash can entry [it] all the time. That is about giving entry to those that can’t. For him, it’s all the time been a body of social justice and likewise a body of democracy.”

Argentina’s Nationwide Marketing campaign for the Proper to Authorized, Secure and Free Abortion mentioned in a March 14 assertion that it agreed with and revered Fernández’s choice to prioritize “the well being of all the inhabitants” through the virus outbreak, which it known as a “second of solidarity.”

Nevertheless it additionally mentioned that it hoped the legalization invoice can be launched into Argentina’s Congress “as quickly as doable” as soon as the coronavirus disaster was contained, and mentioned that it will proceed working to win help for a regulation that might finish the criminalization of abortion and “assure our freedom, autonomy, and the train of our rights.”

Abortion grew to become such a outstanding problem as a result of hundreds of thousands of ladies took the streets to demand that politicians reply to them ― not simply in Argentina, however throughout Latin America ― and the problems they raised haven’t been addressed. So even when Fernández’s agenda adjustments within the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, it appears unlikely that the push for legalization will die down.

“For a few years, ladies have been very quiet, and we’ve got simply [accepted] all of our struggles being put on the backside of the agenda,” Avila-Guillen mentioned. “That point is over.”

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