Argentina: abortion rights in sight

Argentinian protest for the right to abortion in 2006. Photo: Wikimedia.

Pro-choice campaigners are hopeful that Argentinian president-elect Alberto Fernández will act on his promise to put a pro-choice bill to Congress. An attempt to legalise abortion was narrowly lost last year, when the Senate decided against removing a law penalising women who have an abortion with up to four year’s in jail. Green Left Weekly’s Pip Hinman asked Rosana Fanjul, a long-term activist in the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion Campaign in Buenos Aires, about the prospects for a pro-choice law, now a new government has been elected.

Can you please first tell us something about yourself?

I’m the granddaughter of Dr Dora Coledesky, a pioneer of this struggle since 1988, who died in 2009. Since 2015, my 20 year-old daughter has also become an activist. Having young people become active in the campaign since the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less, a movement to highlight and stop violence against women) march of 2015, has provided it with an important focus — which is about the right to have desires and to enjoy our bodies, something that is still socially questioned.

How would you assess the impact of the huge pro-abortion campaign on the election of president-elect Alberto Fernandez?

The national movement for the right to legal, safe and free abortion, questioned each candidate. Everyone was asked to talk about their stand on abortion. Even in televised debates, the presidential candidates were asked about their position. Many candidates wore our green handkerchiefs — the symbol of our struggle.

President-elect Alberto Fernandez stated he was in favour and showed he was across the arguments. Other candidates played with the legal confusion between decriminalisation and legalisation.

But while Fernandez’ position was clear, his electoral list included candidates who did not support abortion rights.

Likewise the Cambiemos list, headed by former president Mauricio Macri, included both opinions. 

I’m not sure that the election result was tipped by this debate, but I do believe the massive campaign would have guaranteed millions of votes for the new government.

Until today, no political party or movement has been capable of mobilising such a large number of people as this campaign has done.

So the legal right to abortion is closer to becoming law?

Absolutely.  We believe it will be no later than 2020. But having an elected president who is in favour of abortion  does not guarantee it, because the churches still have a lot of political and economic power and they do not support abortion rights.

But, even though the movement lacks money and infrastructure, we have reached the point where the word “abortion” is in everyone’s vocabulary.

Our campaign, which has been built up step-by-step over many years, has meant we have a solid foundation for this reform.

We are saying that this right has to be based on the sexual autonomy of the woman, or the pregnant person, and their human rights and social equality.

As young people have made this right their personal fight, it also means that, sooner or later, our bill will be passed.

Can you spell out what you want in the new law?

We are campaigning for government compliance with the Pregnancy Legal Interruption Protocol (PLI) which, since 1921, has ruled that abortion is legal in cases of rape, or if the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s health. Sex with a child under 13 is considered rape.

The PLI is not being complied with and this means working with health professionals to ensure people have the right to choose all over Argentina. Currently, there are a high number of maternal deaths from complications from abortions.

We are also working for the Comprehensive Sexual Education Law, in force since 2006, to be complied with. We’re doing this through a network of “right to choose” teachers.

We want to have our Voluntary Pregnancy Interruption bill approved. Our campaign is based on three demands: sexual education to decide; contraceptives so as to not have to abort; and legal abortion so as to not die.

We need all three for our rights to be guaranteed.

We made it clear in the debate in Congress that we are prepared to fight any battle with solid arguments and without imposing our personal beliefs onto others, not making judgments about other people’s bodies.

What are the next steps in this campaign?

Once we know when the 2019 bill will be debated, we will probably organise out the front of the National Congress, to show how much interest there is to have it passed.

We also have many different ongoing activities: we never stop campaigning in all possible spaces. For example, we campaign for schools to guarantee they will apply the Sexual Education Law through our network of teachers for the right to choose, who also work building law subjects.

We are also demanding free and adequate contraception, which is not included in the Sexual Education and Responsible Procreation Law.

We will continue to demand that abortions are performed legally and have formed a network of professionals for the right to choose that guarantees that.

We give classes at universities on what constitutes a professional approach to abortion rights.

Every year, we participate in a national meeting of women in La Plata. At the 34th meeting, a week ago, we organised 13 strategy workshops, all attracting capacity crowds. Afterwards, we all marched to show the movement’s strength.

Deaths from clandestine abortions amount to state femicide; it is a major public health and social justice issue.

We will represent those women who have died, so they are not forgotten.

We will fight to have the bill passed promptly, so there are no more deaths. 

We will also take part in international meetings and congresses on the topic, since this is an issue that goes beyond South America.

We are also building towards a massive march for legal abortion on February 19, the anniversary of the handkerchief march for legal abortion and International Women Day on March 8.