Argentina legalizes abortion: breakthrough for pro-choice movement

Claire Roach, Staff Writer

Argentina became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion after 12 hours of debate in the Senate. On Dec. 30, the wider-than-expected margin showed 38 Senate members voting in favor of the bill and 29 against, with one abstention. As well as the legalization of abortions for up to the 14th week of a pregnancy, senators voted in favor of the “1,000-Day Plan,” which gives better healthcare for pregnant women and mothers of young children.

This vote overturned a law that has been in place since 1921, which only allowed abortions in cases of rape or when the pregnant woman’s health was at risk. Being a traditionally conservative region with influence from the Roman Catholic Church, a similar bill was posed but rejected by the Senate in 2018. Other Latin American countries have various laws regarding abortion, with only a few countries allowing them with varying limits on the number of weeks into the pregnancy. Abortion is still completely banned in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

After the ruling, there were reactions from both sides. Pro-choice advocates celebrated in the streets all night. On the contrary, Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, supported Argentine groups fighting against abortion legislation. Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches called for a day of prayer, fasting and reflection.

“Blessed Virgin, we ask you to pause your gaze on the legislators who will decide on a matter of such extreme delicacy, so that you can provoke a serene reflection in their minds and in their hearts,” Bishop Oscar Ojela said prior to the legislative session. 

This decision was deeply supported by the grassroots feminist movement, Ni Una Menos, which protests against gender-based violence. Rallies, marches and online campaigning turned into political power. The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, backed the bill. In the Senate, four undecided voters turned in favor, and one of the previously-opposing senators turned in favor of the bill. 

“I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone,” President Fernández said during his campaigning process.

Supporters say this ruling gives hope for neighboring countries to follow suit. It also helps the progression of other movements such as marriage equality, transgender rights and the feminist movement in Latin America.