Argentina’s abortion debate mirrors Ireland in every respect bar one
Unable to travel from Argentina for an abortion, 3,000 women have died since 1983
Protesters with green handkerchiefs, emblem of the fight for the legalisation of abortion in Argentina, seek the separation of church and the state, in Buenos Aires. Photograph: Maria Paulina Rodriguez
A very welcome Bill will soon come before the Oireachtas in Ireland, effecting a transformation of Ireland’s provision of abortion services. A very important Bill is also before the Argentinian senate right now, proposing to decriminalise abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and thereby guarantee access to safe abortion services. We in Amnesty International Argentina are calling for the senate to vote for its adoption.
There are many similarities between our two countries in the context of abortion. Therefore, we are heartened that a group of 60 Irish parliamentarians from both Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann, across almost all political parties and groups, have signed a letter to the Argentinian senators urging a vote in favour of the Bill.
Their support – and the wider support of the Irish people – matters. The historic landslide Yes vote in Ireland’s May 25th referendum on the Eighth Amendment is a beacon of hope to women around the world. We see the same feeling of momentum and hope in Argentina too about this Bill. But how the senators will vote is unpredictable, and worryingly close. We need the support of the international community to ensure they uphold the rights of women and girls here in Argentina.
How the senators will vote is unpredictable, and worryingly close. We need the support of the international community
Ireland has come from a similar background to Argentina, and here too public opinion has moved far beyond supporting restrictive laws limiting women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Part of the remaining challenge in Argentina is the church’s influence on governmental issues. It is encouraging to see the Irish Government rejecting the suggestions by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference code of ethics that abortions and other sexual and reproductive health care not be provided in hospitals with a religious ethos.
This religious influence is one of many factors still impeding women’s access to abortion in Argentina. In law, abortion is permitted when the pregnancy is the result of a rape, or if the woman’s life or health is in danger. In practice though, it is very difficult to access an abortion even in these lawful circumstances, for reasons including excessive use of conscientious objection tolerated by the state.
According to official data, as a result of the current law, half a million women undergo clandestine abortions every year in Argentina. In 2013 alone, 49,000 women were admitted to public hospitals for abortion-related health complications. Criminalising abortion forces women and girls to make a cruel choice: put their health and lives at risk or go to jail.
Our two countries’ restrictive abortion laws have many similarities, then. In both, criminalising abortion has not stopped women having abortions. Instead, it has forced women to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortions. Our laws have had quite different impacts on women and girls though. Since the Eighth Amendment was introduced in Ireland in 1983, while few women have died in Ireland from lack of access to safe abortion services, 170,000 have had to travel to England and elsewhere for these services, often causing harm to their physical and mental health. In Argentina however, since 1983 over 3,000 women have died, because they lacked the resources or ability to travel to other states for this healthcare.
Life and death
This Bill is literally a matter of life and death for women and girls in Argentina. We welcome President Mauricio Macri’s step of opening up a congressional debate on the decriminalisation of abortion. Then, following two months of public and participatory parliamentary hearings and intense debate, on June 14th, the Argentinian Chamber of Deputies took a historic step forward for the human rights of women and girls by voting in favour of this Bill. Now that it has passed to the senate, the Bill’s final approval – and the lives of women and girls in Argentina – hinge on the votes of undecided senators.
This Bill is literally a matter of life and death for women and girls in Argentina
This parallels with Ireland’s own process towards abortion law reform last year, leading up to the May referendum. A Bill to realise these reforms will be introduced to your parliament once the referendum result is constitutionally effected. This experience in Ireland illustrates to other countries that legislating to reform restrictive abortion laws is both necessary and possible.
We earnestly hope that the members of the Argentinian senate now seize this momentous opportunity to put an end to the injustices against women and girls by voting favour of this Bill. We are campaigning for this outcome, so Argentinian law can safeguard women’s access to safe and lawful abortion services. Those interested in supporting our call on the senate to vote for this Bill can sign our petition at amnesty.ie
Mariela Belski is executive director of Amnesty International Argentina