ARGENTINA: The Fight for the Right to Abortion
(excerpted from the IWC Weekly Newsletter No. 95)
On June 14, under pressure from 1 million people in the streets in front of the Congress in Buenos Aires, the Chamber of Deputies legalized abortion. But on August 9, the Argentine Senate overturned the decision. This rejection by the Senate unleashed a vast movement of “Collective Apostasy” — with 4,000 Argentine men and women requesting to have their baptisms rescinded.
At a rally organized on this occasion, one woman stated: “I was baptized at birth, hence without my consent. Today, at the age of 30, I refuse to condone an institution [the Catholic Church] that is hypocritical and perverse.” Fernando Losado of the Argentine Coalition for a Secular State (CAEL) stated. “It is time to totally separate the Church from the State.”
Following are excerpts from an interview with María Gabriela Morales from the national leadership of AEFIP (Association of Federal Government Revenue Employees) and the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), and Sonia M. García, a leader of APINTA (Association of the National Institute of Agricultural Technology Employees).
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Question: What is the situation of women in Argentina concerning the right to terminate pregnancy?
María Gabriela Morales: When a woman has an abortion it is illegal. This endangers her health and her life. State intervention to protect women and/or to support them is non-existent. This situation most directly affects women who have limited financial resources. They resort to clandestine methods, as they do not have the means to have an abortion performed under safe conditions.
It is estimated that 500,000 abortions are performed every year in Argentina. Since 1983, nearly 3,000 women have died following a botched abortion.
Sonia M. Garcia: There are thousands of women today who, besides not being economically independent, do not have any social or family support. So they go see a woman in their neighborhood who has some medical knowledge and who, besides making a profit on their vulnerability, mistreats them and does not respect the basic rules of hygiene. And that costs them their lives.
It has been established clearly by the health authorities that abortion is the main cause of maternal death in the county. In addition, an abortion that is performed in poor conditions causes numerous pathologies, sometimes even leading to the impossibility for the women to carry a future baby to birth.
Question: What is the scope of the mobilization for the right to a safe and free abortion?
María: The mobilization in favor of decriminalization is extremely significant, especially among young women. The unprecedented size of the gatherings must be noted; one million persons have participated. Today we are seeing the slow but tenacious efforts to put this issue on the agenda come to fruition. The most significant slogan is: ‘Sex education in order to decide, contraceptives in order to avoid abortion, abortion in order not to die.’
Sonia: The call to participate in collective actions in favor of the decriminalization of abortion — the Green Tide — in Argentina has been tremendous. It has called on teenage girls to join in, with clarity of concept that is moving to witness. Today, the fight is theirs, and they do not want to lose. The girls know that this space is what they have won and no one will make them retreat. The goal is to get decriminalization, with the creation of genuine and clear educational campaigns, and with State provision of contraception.
The girls, activists of this Green Tide, know that it has been difficult, but the hegemonic media, the manipulators of public opinion, would never have imagined a response that is so massive from society. Now we are going to win the vote in the Senate. The dinosaurs have disappeared. The Senate will be renovated!
Question: Have the Catholic Church and the Pope played a role in the Senate vote against this basic right?
María: Undoubtedly. The Catholic Church and the Pope — who is from Argentina — have played a preponderant role in Argentine society, where we have a pending debate on the separation of the State and the Church. The Catholic Church is one of the institutions that has the most power in our country, and it has wielded that power within the parliamentary debate. Its relations with the authorities have been verified through the massive presence of its representatives advocating its positions in the media and in the space they have been granted.
Sonia: I am sure that the Church has played a role; we must never forget that the Vatican is a State, with its own strategic policies. There is no one who is innocent among the senators. They have a responsibility and, as we often say: “Not we, but history, will judge them”.
Question: How will the fight be pursued?
María: With the deepening of the mass mobilizations. The youth are now the protagonists of the struggle. They have formed social organizations that are putting pressure on the institutions and the political parties to present a new draft bill. This issue will be at the center of the candidates’ platforms in 2019 elections. These are all elements that will lead to the adoption of a law that legalizes abortion.
Sonia: The struggle is here and now; we are fighting the good fight. It will continue in the streets, and it will grow with the renewed forces of the teenagers, all the way to victory. I have no doubt.
(interviewed by Ricardo Sonny Martinez)