If a draft happened, I would fight

"Our right is now law"

| ak 667 | feminism

In Argentina, abortions have been decriminalized - activist Doris Quispe explains how it worked

Interview: Eleonora Roldán Mendívil

After decades of struggle, the Argentine parliament has passed a law that legalizes abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy: a huge success for the strong feminist movements in the Latin American country. Activist Doris Quispe explains how this came about and what exactly the law means.

On December 29, 2020, Argentina became the third country in South America to decriminalize abortion, after French Guiana and Uruguay. How was the way there?

Doris Quispe: One of the first slogans that appeared in the feminist movements in Argentina was: "Contraceptives to prevent an abortion, legal abortion to avoid death". This slogan is the legacy of the militancy of Italian immigrant women in the struggle for the decriminalization of abortion, giving rise to what is now the "National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion". The first National Women's Meeting in Argentina was held in Buenos Aires in May 1986, but it wasn't until 1988 that workshops on abortion began there. In 1995, the commission of the National Women’s Meeting decided to open a separate, long-term political space on the subject. The discussion stopped being limited to a few and was extended to female students and political, feminist and lesbian organizations. This is how the "Coordinating Committee for the Right to Abortion" came into being. It has been a place of debate on this issue ever since.

Doris Quispe

lives in Buenoes Aires, Argentina. The 47-year-old was born in Lima, Peru and migrated to Argentina in 2002. She is a political activist and, among other things, a member of the Partido Obrero (workers' party) and active in »Ni una migrante menos«, an association of migrant women who fight for the right to stay and the protection of every migrant in Argentina.

When was the first bill to legalize abortion presented?

The first bill for safe and free legal abortion was tabled in 1992. This bill was the impetus for the one presented in 2003. In 2018, the law was tabled for the seventh consecutive year, bringing the abortion debate to the streets, on television and in Congress. On May 28, 2020, the "National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion" in Argentina presented its draft for the eighth time, generating political pressure. President Alberto Fernández then presented his own project, which, after almost 20 hours of debate, was successful on December 11th with 131 votes in favor and 117 against. In the Senate, the second chamber of Congress, on December 29, 2020, in a historic and emotional twelve-hour session, the law received more votes than expected, and the necessary votes were obtained. As of the validity of the law, termination of pregnancy will only be considered a crime from the 15th week of pregnancy. Since 1921, the Criminal Code has criminalized people who have abortions. Not anymore.

There is a very present and radical feminist movement in Argentina. How did this argue?

The "marea verde" (green wave) did not give up, they continued to fight to get this law through. This is not a moral issue, it is a public health issue. Also, the Criminal Code, which advocated abortion for cases of minor rape or danger to the life of a pregnant person, did not have abortions and therefore legal, safe and free abortion had to become law. The criminalization of a penal code that was enforced by men for almost 100 years when women were unable to participate in decisions or express their opinions is unbearable. A penal code that had a criminalizing and regressive aim had to be changed, and therefore it was an issue raised by the feminist movement and debated in all political spaces.

Then what was your reaction when the result became known?

The emotions we felt after so many decades of struggle were enormous. We cried for joy, we partied and danced, everyone chanted the slogans of this fight with much more force.

What are the criticisms of the current law?

The criticism of this law is that "refusal on the basis of conscience" is allowed. It enables doctors not to carry out legal abortions for personal reasons and to instruct another doctor to do so. From the 15th week of pregnancy onwards, termination of pregnancy is still a criminal offense, except in cases in which the pregnancy is the result of rape or when the “life or integral health” of the pregnant woman is in danger.

The "marea verde" did not give up, they continued to fight to get this law through.

What effects will the law have on neighboring countries such as Bolivia, Chile and Brazil, where abortions are still only decriminalized in absolute exceptional cases, if at all? Do you expect unwanted pregnant people from these countries to come to Argentina for an abortion?

The law of safe and free legal abortion in Argentina is important to Latin America. Uruguay and French Guiana were ahead of us, but the green kerchief is the green tide that has affected people in different countries fighting for access to this right. The women's movement and queer people have succeeded in creating a debate about legal abortion or clandestine abortion. When the abortion law was passed in Uruguay, those who opposed the women queuing in the hospitals and the health system collapsing said the same thing would happen in Argentina. Of course, that didn't happen in Uruguay. In the Argentine public health system, foreigners also have the right to use the same health system as any Argentine citizen. At the same time, however, the care of foreign patients in Argentina is still so low that it is a myth that migrants will bring the health system to collapse.

Are abortions now legal, safe and free in Argentina, as the National Campaign has been calling for for years?

The law passed in Argentina sets out the conditions under which a pregnant person can voluntarily terminate pregnancy up to the 14th week of pregnancy for no reason and at no cost, as this practice is now integrated into the compulsory medical program of the Argentine health system becomes. This means that all public health and private social work institutions must guarantee this right, it is our right, and it is now law.

Eleonora Roldán Mendívil

is a political scientist, journalist and political educator. She is doing her doctorate at the University of Kassel on the relationship between class, gender and "race" from a Marxist perspective. She lives in Berlin.