By Annah Johnson
As large crowds of polarized political activists stood outside the Palace of the Argentine National Congress, Argentina’s Senate approved a bill to legalize abortion on Dec. 30, 2020.
With a vote of 38-29 and support from Argentinian President Alberto Fernández, many were surprised to see the Senate approve such a bill in the Catholic-majority country. In 2018, the same issue was brought to light in attempts to change abortion laws but was struck down in the Senate under the conservative President Mauricio Macri and strong opposition from the Catholic church.
Fernández has offered unwavering support to the abortion rights movement and made a pledge to “put an end to the criminalization of abortion,” shortly before he was inaugurated. He has often made the issue a priority but has not been able to fulfill his campaign pledge until he presented the bill to Congress in November. Along with activists protesting for abortion rights, Fernández wore green to show his support for the movement during the vote.
Although the issue of abortion is divisive all over the world, Latin America has a strikingly high percentage of citizens that identify as Roman Catholic – a religion that is traditionally against abortion. To add to this tension, Pope Francis is from Argentina and has expressed support for the anti-abortion groups in the country, and church leaders had called on the Senate to vote against the bill.
Abortion is widely unaccepted and illegal in Latin America, but Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay currently allow abortions during the very first weeks of pregnancy. With the passing of this bill, Argentina is now the largest country in the region to have legalized the procedure.
The bill legalizes abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and allows 13-16-year-olds to receive an abortion without the consent of their guardian. Before this law was passed, the country allowed the procedure if the pregnancy was a result of sexual assault or posed as a health risk for the person carrying the child, but all other abortions were illegal. Argentinians who received the procedure illegally potentially faced up to 15 years in jail.
To provide more financial and physical safety for pregnant persons who are able to go through with a pregnancy, the Senate also passed the “1,000-day plan” to offer more support and services through pregnancy up to the first 1,000 days of the child’s life.