The recent defeat of an abortion legalization law in Argentinian Congress has raised several questions about the law process and on the divided society. Many international media had covered the treatment of the law and now have similar inquiries about the defeat, especially on the recent legalization in Ireland, a traditional highly catholic nation where the Catholic Church has an enormous weight on public opinion.
To answer this series of obvious questions the process has to be analyzed from the start. At the beginning of 2018 president Mauricio Macri, with a declared anti-abortion posture and clear representative of conservative and highly catholic voters, gave a surprising statement when he promoted the debate of the law and sent a first draft of law to the Congress.
It was a response to the continuous series of street manifestations from the feminist movement #NiUnaMenos. At this point it is important to explain the origins and motivations of the movement. It started around 2015 as a response to growing gender violence cases and femicides (homicides committed against women for being women) and that has embraced a series of historic women claims such as work and salary equality, correction of sexist behaviors in different scenarios and abortion.
The start of the debate had a series of opposite reactions both in abortion and anti-abortion militants. Social media became the terrain for an intense debate. Millions of users declared their posture by putting color marks in their avatars: light blue for anti-abortion posture and green for the legalization posture. Not only in social media you can see the color identifications. You can walk every street in Argentina and find several people carrying handkerchiefs of both colors tied to a bag, a purse or even a wrist.
Many editorials and scientific texts where published in digital media to enrich the debate but, of course, the social media environment was also ground for bad taste comments and even real hate speech. The debate was first polluted at this point.
Mistakes in the debate
The most important debate, though, was based in the preliminary expositions for the Senate and the Deputies Chamber. Many expositions were addressed by non-scientific and non-expert speakers such as actors and actresses, journalists and even priests.
Every declaration by the speakers had wide echoes in social media and there were unfortunate claims. The most outrageous and widely discussed was Dr. Abel Albino’s (against legalization) statement that condoms are no protection at all against AIDS. Albino is a founder of Conin, an ONG that fights children malnutrition on the whole country. His work is highly appreciated by every political sector but his declarations were highly repudiated by both postures for attempting against sexual health and public opinion.
The voting in the Senate was positive. The most controversial vote was Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s, who is the former president and who never promoted the debate in her two presidential periods, when the law could had been approved on her majorities in both chambers. Her voted was positive this time.
The debate on the Chamber of Deputies was different. In front of the Congress a multitude was divided by a fence. Both sides expressed themselves with colors. They had also manifested during the Senate voting but during the final debate the multitude was greater.
The legalization militants knew the positive posture didn’t had the votes and they focused on the undefined Deputies. There was another great mistake there when militants on both postures made direct pressure on specific Deputies based in anonymous threats.
Many Deputies declared their negative posture based on their catholic beliefs and many declarations of priests and bishops could be considered as pressure from the Catholic Church on the voting. The law was not approved and it can’t be treated again during this legislative period, which means a new try will have to wait until next year.
Only a week after the defeat the news of a woman in Santiago del Estero, a center-northern province, who died for the consequences of a clandestine abortion and left an orphan child shook public opinion. The number of women deaths are not limited to her but her case had a special repercussion.
The number of clandestine abortions in Argentina, according to #NiUnaMenos information, climbs to 460,000 and 600,000. It is important to add that the numbers are not rigorous on obvious reasons of illegality. In August, the feminist ONG MuMaLa (Women of Latin-American Ground) founded a Register of Abortion Caused Death to keep track of the statistics and keep claiming on the legalization of abortion.
Sexual Education to choose, contraceptives to decide, legal, safe and free abortion not to die. These are the claims of the abortion legalization movements. Sexual education is mandatory in primary education but in practice many schools don’t impart it.
Low income population with no real access to contraceptives and lack of sexual education are the specific sector the law is meant for, for the low income women are the ones who attend to unsafe and unsanitary places to perform abortions taking several risks.
“Abortion has existed, exists and will keep existing. The true debate is legal abortion or clandestine abortion”, claims Raquel Vivanco, National Coordinator of MuMaLa. Many doctors claim for a consciousness article on the law that permits them to derive the cases to doctors on favor of abortion that was not thought. Abortion causes are the second major cause of women death in Argentina. More than something that can be handled with personal belief, it is a public health problem that needs to be faced.
Next year, when the law can be treated again the whole society, but especially politics, need to be up to the challenge.