Argentina’s abortion law goes into effect under scrutiny

By Almudena Calatrava | Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s groundbreaking abortion law went into effect on Sunday under the watchful eyes of women’s groups and government officials, who hope to ensure its full implementation despite opposition from some conservative and religious groups.

Argentina has become the largest country in Latin America to legalize elective abortion after its Senate on December 30 passed a law guaranteeing the procedure until the 14th week of pregnancy and beyond in cases of rape or when a woman’s health is at risk.

The vote was hailed as a triumph for the South American country’s feminist movement that could pave the way for similar actions in the socially conservative and heavily Roman Catholic region.

But Pope Francis had made a last-minute appeal ahead of the vote, and church leaders criticized the decision. Supporters of the law say they expect legal action from anti-abortion groups in conservative provinces in Argentina and that some private health clinics may refuse to perform the procedure.

“Another huge task lies ahead of us,” said Argentina’s Minister for Women, Gender and Diversity, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who acknowledged there will be obstacles to full enforcement across the country.

Gómez Alcorta said a telephone line will be set up “so that those who do not have access to abortion can communicate”.

Argentina’s Catholic Church has rejected the law, and groups of conservative doctors and lawyers have called for resistance. Physicians and health professionals can invoke conscientious objection to perform abortions, but cannot invoke this right if the life or health of a pregnant woman is in danger.

A statement signed by the Consortium of Catholic Doctors, the Catholic Lawyers Corporation and other groups called on doctors and lawyers to “nobly, steadfastly and courageously resist the norm that legalizes the heinous crime of abortion.”

Anti-abortion group Unidad Provida also urged doctors, nurses and technicians to fight for their “freedom of conscience” and promised to “accompany them in all necessary trials”.

By law, private health centers that do not have doctors willing to perform abortions must refer women seeking abortions to clinics that will. Any public official or health authority who unduly delays an abortion will be punished with imprisonment from three months to one year.

The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, an umbrella group for organizations that have fought for legal abortion for years, often wearing green scarves in protests, has pledged to ” continue to monitor compliance with the law”.

“We trust the feminist networks we have built over decades,” said Laura Salomé, one of the movement’s members.

A previous abortion bill was defeated by Argentine lawmakers in 2018 by a narrow margin. But in the December vote, he was backed by the centre-left government, spurred on by the so-called “piba” revolution, Argentine slang for “girls”, and opinion polls showing the opposition s was softened.

Proponents of the law expect backlash in conservative provinces of Argentina. In the northern province of Salta, a federal judge this week overturned a motion filed by a former lawmaker asking for the law to be suspended because the legislature exceeded its powers. Opponents of abortion cite international treaties signed by Argentina pledging to protect life from conception.

Gómez Alcorta said criminal charges currently pending against more than 1,500 women and doctors who performed abortions should be dropped. She said the number of women and doctors detained “was not that high”, but did not provide a figure.

“The Ministry of Women will exercise its leadership” to put an end to these cases, she said.

Tamara Grinberg, 32, who had a clandestine abortion in 2012, celebrated that now “a girl can go to the hospital and say ‘I want an abortion'”.

She said that when she had an abortion, very few people helped her. “Today there are many more support networks…and the decision is respected. When I did, no one respected my decision.

While abortion is already legal in other parts of Latin America – such as Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico City – its legalization in Argentina is expected to ripple throughout the region, where dangerous clandestine procedures remain the norm a half -century later a woman’s right to choose was guaranteed in the United States

AP journalists Víctor Caivano and Yésica Brumec contributed to this report.

Helen D. Jessen