People celebrate Congress passing a bill that legalizes abortion in Argentina. Natacha Pisarenko/AP Photo

Controversial bill legalizes elective abortions in Argentina

After 12 hours of deliberation, Argentina became the largest Latin American country to legalize elective abortions on December 30. This came two years after a failed attempt by pro-choice activists to pass a similar law. 


Prior to the passing of the bill, abortions were only legal in cases that presented serious harm to the life of the mother and instances of rape. The new law allows for free and legal abortions up until the 14th week for any reason.


“Safe, legal and free abortion is now the law,” President Alberto Fernández wrote in a tweet following the vote. “Today, we are a better society that expands women’s rights and guarantees public health.”


According to BBC, the bill—referred to as the “1000-Day Plan”—also intends to provide better healthcare for pregnant women and mothers with young children.


In the region, only Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana and parts of Mexico allow women to request an abortion, each with varying degrees of restrictions. Abortions are completely banned in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.


“Adopting a law that legalizes abortion in a Catholic country as big as Argentina will energize the struggle to ensure women’s rights in Latin America,” said Juan Pappier, a senior researcher on the Americas at Human Rights Watch, according to Reuters


The passing of the law continues to face backlash as the region is heavily influenced by the Catholic church. The current pope, Pope Francis, himself from Argentina, spoke out against the decision in a tweet prior to the vote, writing “the son of God was born discarded to tell us that every person discarded is a child of God.” 


The pro-life sentiment was heard from the oppostion within the country and surounding areas.


“The interruption of a pregnancy is a tragedy. It abruptly ends another developing life,” said Senator Inés Blas, who voted against the law.


“I deeply regret for the lives of Argentinian children, now subject to being ended in the bellies of their mothers with the State’s agreement. If it depends on me and my administration, abortion will never be approved on our soil,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted


Argentina’s Fernández argued that the decision was based on public health, according to Reuters. Argentina’s Health Ministry reported that over 3000 have died from illegal and unsafe abortions between 1983–2018. 

“I’m Catholic, but I have to legislate for everyone,” Fernández said


“This has been a struggle for many years, many women died,” said Vilma Ibarra, technical secretary for the president. “Never again will there be a woman killed in a clandestine abortion.” 


Some see this change as a starting point to the possibility of moving the country and region as a whole in a more liberal, progressive direction.


“We’re going through a shift in paradigm, and this change is led by the feminist and environmental fights,” said Senator Silvina García Larraburu, who voted against legalization in 2018 but for it in 2021. “Beyond my personal position, of my beliefs, we are faced with a problem that requires a public health approach.”


“Although there will certainly be resistance, I think it’s fair to predict that, as it occurred when Argentina legalized same sex marriage in 2010, this new law could have a domino effect in the region,” Pappier said.