Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, has promised to sign a bill that will decriminalize abortion at up to 14 weeks of pregnancy for any reason. Like most of South America, the country of 45 million is largely Roman Catholic. The bill, which passed in congress on Dec. 11 and in the Senate on Dec. 29, makes Argentina the largest country in Latin America to legalize abortion.
Abortion was criminalized in Argentina in the late 19th century, and currently the only legal abortions are in cases of rape or if the mother’s health is in danger. In a video posted to Twitter on Nov. 17, Fernández said women are forced to have unsafe backstreet abortions due to the laws making abortion illegal. According to Fernández, nearly 40,000 women in Argentina sought hospital care because of botched abortions in 2019, and these abortions have led to the deaths of 3,000 women since 1983. In the video, Fernández said, “It was always my commitment that the State accompany all pregnant people in their maternity and take care of the life and health of those who decide to interrupt their pregnancy. The State must not ignore any of these realities”
Fernández took office in December of 2019, replacing Mauricio Macri, who opposed legalized abortion. In 2018, the Senate rejected a similar bill that would legalize abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy by a vote of 38-31. The bill lacked government support, and the Catholic Church strongly opposed it. With Fernández introducing this bill, however, it passed by a surprisingly wide measure of 38-29, with one abstention.
Taking to Twitter to celebrate the bill’s passage, Fernández acknowledged that he had kept his campaign promise to work for legalization of abortion. “Safe, legal and free abortion is the law,” he said. “Today we are a better society that expands rights to women and guarantees public health.”
In 2018, Pope Francis, a native of Buenos Aires, was quoted as saying about abortion, “Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves.” In his recent comments to the U.N., Francis decried the view many hold of abortion as a solution to society’s complex problems, saying, “It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child.”
Pro-abortion sentiment has been on the rise in Argentina, increasing in 2019 partly due to public outrage over the case of an 11-year-old who received a Caesarean section after being raped by her grandmother’s 65-year-old partner. The girl and her mother sought an abortion, but questions about guardianship rights stalled the process until she delivered a baby by C-section at 23 weeks.
According to a report released by Argentina’s Social Development Ministry, there were 2,787 births to mothers under the age of 15 in 2015. The country’s economic crisis has compounded problems of abuse and violence against women. In the second half of 2018, poverty increased from 27.3% to 32% of the population, according to Argentina’s National Institute of Statistics and Censuses. Homelessness is on the rise, and a lack of resources affects more and more women.
Fernández said the bill would be followed by a second bill that would create a “Thousand Days Program” to “strengthen comprehensive care” for mothers and children during pregnancy and the first three years of life. The second bill is intended to support those who would otherwise resort to abortion due to poverty.
While we should applaud efforts to provide comprehensive care for mothers and young children in vulnerable situations, that care must extend to the most vulnerable, the unborn. There is nothing caring about telling a woman in a difficult situation that ending her child’s life is the way to ensure her survival and that of any other children she may have. We must seek to protect life at every stage.