Mariela Belski is the executive director of Amnesty International Argentina.
Argentina is only days away from becoming a role model in Latin America and the world in the cause of advancing the human rights of women and girls. For that to happen, however, the country’s senators must vote Wednesday on a bill to decriminalize abortion.
On June 14, the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill that would allow women to terminate pregnancies during the first 14 weeks, in a historical vote that saw of the biggest street demonstrations of women claiming for their rights in the country’s history. The issue is certainly divisive, but there has been a healthy debate and President Mauricio Macri has said he will respect the results of the vote in Congress.
Amid the debate, many Argentinian women have organized a united front.
This is why the abortion law is a test for the country. The Senate must vote to put an end to clandestine abortions, giving women and girls access to safe procedures. Lawmakers must understand that, if Argentina wants to advance on the world stage, the country needs to guarantee reproductive rights.
Sadly, many senators have already said they will vote against the bill. Some claim moral or religious objections, which align with their electoral interests. The influence of the Catholic Church in rural provinces is very strong. The Church and other opponents have deployed very aggressive campaigns against lawmakers who either favor decriminalization or those who remain undecided.
In the northern province of Tucumán, the streets were covered recently with posters with the face of Sen. José Alperovich urging him to vote “No against the prenatal holocaust.” An utterly heinous action. Many legislators with aspirations to become provincial governors don’t wish to antagonize the Church. Their vote on Wednesday might reflect this fear.
Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, many countries in the world have progressively moved to decriminalize abortion. Argentina’s government wants the country to become a global player and has sought membership of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, of which most of its member countries have decriminalized abortion. Approving the bill will bring Argentina closer to internationally recognized standards of women’s rights and health rights.
Abortion is completely banned in six Latin American countries. Nine countries allow it if it puts the life of the mother at risk; only a few allow it in cases of rape (including Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Panama), or if there are abnormalities in the fetus. Fewer than 3 percent of women in the region live in countries (including Cuba and Uruguay) where abortion without strict limits is legal. It is legal in Mexico City.
The current law in Argentina is a total failure that puts women at unnecessary risk: Each year, 43 women die from illegal abortions and another 135 per day are hospitalized.
This is why the international community is watching us. Several high-profile U.N. committees, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have stressed the need to guarantee access to the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.
At this point, there is no room for senators to waver. Decriminalizing abortion is not a concession made to women: it is a human-rights imperative that Argentina has been violating for years. Recognizing and defending the rights of women is a necessary step to become a modern democracy once and for all.