Argentina is in uproar this week over a bill that was shut down in Congress that would have legalized abortion up to 14 weeks, The Guardian reports. The vote was split 38 opposed to 31 in favor, displaying how divided the government and the country is on this issue.
The now-defunct bill would have allowed for women to obtain an abortion up to 14 weeks along in pregnancy in a country where the procedure is currently criminalized. Women who seek to have abortions face a risk a jail sentence of 4 years. Current law only allows for abortions “in the case of rape, when the mother is mentally disabled or if there is a serious risk to her health,” the Washington Post reports.
450,000 illegal abortions are performed every year in Argentina, but the quality of care for these abortions varies drastically depending on women’s financial situations. In our June/July 2016 issue, Carla McKirdy researched the different types of illegal abortions available to women in Argentina. Over 80,000 women each year have to go to the hospital from these often dangerous procedures, and 100 of these cases end in death.
If a woman cannot afford to visit an abortion clinic disguised as a gynecologist’s office, they are forced to go to “dangerous back-alley abortions performed by untrained amateur physicians…In rural areas especially, women continue to fall prey to local lore and use risky homemade methods to induce an abortion.”
Some doctors are able to perform abortions under the radar by choosing to define the law’s description of legal abortion permitted at risk to mother’s health as “at risk to the mother’s mental health,” McKirdy reports. Additionally, it is hard for doctors to be arrested for performing abortions unless they are seen in the act. But certified doctors performing these procedures are few and far between for many women, meaning that they are receiving inadequate and often dangerous care.
McKirdy discusses how despite the lack of government support, the women’s right to choose movement has been circulating through Argentina all the way back to the 70’s. However, they have continued to face strong push back because of the strength of the Catholic church in the country.
Claudia Piñeiro writes in TIME about the Catholic church’s stance on abortion in Argentina, stating that “the heart of the issue is the sexuality of women and their right to choose not to become a mother.” She believes that the church holds the opinion that “women—without exception—are born to be mothers.”
Despite the fact that the bill was shut down in the Senate, women’s rights activists remain hopeful for the future of women’s right to choose in Argentina. The vote was close, so there is potential for the government to later approve a law that would allow for women to govern over their own bodies.
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Sarah Boyle is an editorial intern who studies English Literature and Sociology at Middlebury College.