by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, Reporter
24 July, 2012
With two laws passed this year giving citizens more control over legal decisions about their bodies, a campaign is advocating for legal, safe and free abortion in Argentina in order to reduce the number of women who die in clandestine clinics. Still, advocates aren’t confident that the Argentine National Congress will pass the bill this year despite the fact that a majority of Argentines disapprove of penalizing a woman for procuring an abortion.
Analía, 32, obtained a clandestine abortion five years ago in Buenos Aires… “Look, I began a relationship with a man, you know,” she says. “We went out for eight months. We ended when I got pregnant, rather, when we got pregnant. I didn’t make the baby alone, but he left me alone with the matter. Afterwards, he informed me that he was married. There was nothing I could do. He didn’t want to take reponsibility.”
All he offered to do was to pay for the abortion.”He told me: ‘Don’t come to me with your problems. Tell me how much money you need and take care of it yourself.’ It hurt me. I was in love, and I thought that we had a solid relationship.”She decided to have an abortion because she couldn’t afford to raise the child alone.”I don’t have a high-level job,” says Analía, who works as an administrative employee at a local hospital. “I have never worked for much more than the minimum wage. I don’t have higher studies. If I did have the baby, I was going to need economic, family and my partner’s support. I wasn’t capable of facing my family or anybody. I felt very alone.”
Her voice drops to a whisper as she talks about the clandestine procedure.”I was six weeks [pregnant] more or less,” she says. She found the doctor who performed the abortion through a contact at the hospital where she works. “There is always someone who knows where you can go,” she says, her voice as thin as she is. “I thought that I was going to die.”The “clinic” was a normal house. One of the rooms contained basic medical supplies.”There, they did a suction on me,” she says. The father of the baby dropped her off but didn’t accompany her inside. “He dropped me off there, and he left. We never talked again.”
Analía is now one of many supporters here of a bill asking for legal, safe and free abortion in Argentina through the Proyecto de Ley de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo.Analía recently attended a festival in support of the bill, the Festival Itinerante por el Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito (Travelling festival for safe, legal, free abortion), held during the month of May in the city’s Centro de la Cooperación. Local initiatives, like the festival, are generating awareness about a bill that would legalize abortion for all women in Argentina. Advocates say the law would reduce maternal mortality. Advocates say they are encouraged by two laws passed by the Argentine National Congress this year that give people more control over their bodies.
Some 500,000 illegal abortions take place in Argentina annually, according to the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito (National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, Free Abortion), a campaign that has united various organizations in support of the pending bill. In Argentina, 40% of pregnancies don’t come to term, many ending voluntarily in clandestine clinics. Abortion is the principal cause of maternal mortality in Argentina, accounting for 30% of maternal deaths, according to the campaign. In many cases, neither health complications nor deaths are reported to the authorities after a clandestine abortion. For every woman that seeks help from a doctor after obtaining one, seven others with complications stay quiet and don’t seek health services.Abortion is illegal in Argentina. But the Supreme Court here ruled in March 2012 that any woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape may obtain an abortion. Before this, courts approved abortions on a case-by-case basis, mostly for victims who were mentally disabled. Abortions are also allowed if the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s life.
Nearly 57% of Argentinians disagree with penalizing a woman who has an abortion, according to a 2010 survey of 1,400 adults over the age of 18 conducted by Ibarómetro, a private market research firm.
The bill was presented to the National Congress in 2008 but lost its status because it was not addressed, according to the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito. In March 2010, the campaign presented the document again with the signatures of more than 30 deputies. Debate began in Congress at the end of 2011, but the bill has not advanced.
In May 2012, the national Senate approved two laws related to the right to decide about one’s own life and body: the death with dignity law and the gender identity law. The first permits terminally ill patients to refuse medical treatments. The second enables each person to legally choose their sex, regardless of the sex assigned at birth.
El Proyecto de Ley de Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo declares that every woman has the right to decide whether to have an abortion during the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy. It also establishes a woman’s right to access abortion that is legal, safe and free.
“The activities of the festival make the people able to know and to have an informed position in respect to [abortion],” Analía says. “It doesn’t try to favor abortion, but to legalize its practice, to end the isolation of women.”With half a million women obtaining abortions annually regardless of the law, legalization would make sure they are safe.
The church hierarchy opposes the bill as did the Supreme Court earlier this year, declaring both an attack on life and a crime against the baby to be born. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of the country, has also repeated that she is against abortion. But the deputies who signed for the reactivation of the bill are for the most part from the party to which she belongs, Frente para la Victoria.But without the president’s support, Analía doesn’t think that the bill will pass this year.”I don’t believe that the law will pass this year,” she says. “That is not to say that we don’t have to keep fighting, although we have the most powerful woman in the country against it.”
Jiménez Abraham underlines the power of the organization of groups and advocates in the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito.”We know that we have a very difficult path,” he says. “We have the conviction to be fighting in favor of social justice and for the end of inequalities in access to the health and enjoyment of reproductive rights… The slogan of our mobilization proposes a holistic approach regarding sexuality and maternity: sexual education in order to decide, contraceptives in order to not abort, legal abortion in order to not die,” he says.
Analía also charges society with forcing women to seek abortions in clandestine clinics.”To the woman who becomes pregnant, they say that she is the only one responsible for her pregnancy,” Analía says. “But they criminalize her if she decides for herself. It is perverse and sad. They leave the woman alone, without options. The men wash their hands, and the society permits it. Afterwards, the only one guilty is me for aborting.”But she says this is neither accurate nor just.”I am not a criminal,” she says. “No woman who aborts is one. The woman who is going to go into a clandestine clinic is one who, like me, is poor. She doesn’t have the money to pay for a safe and confidential abortion.”