Pro-choice activists celebrated on the streets at the close of 2020, as Argentina joined a handful of Latin American states to legalise abortion, a landmark decision in a country where the Catholic Church has long held sway.
On social media, the once popular hashtag #SeráLey (#ItWillBeLaw) was replaced with #EsLey (#ItIsLaw).
Before this, the only Latin American regions allowing voluntary abortion in the first trimester were Uruguay, Cuba, and two Mexican states. Elsewhere, such as in Chile and Brazil, abortion is available in very limited circumstances, including rape, incest, foetal deformity, or risk to the mother’s health. In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, it is banned, and women can be sentenced to jail even for having a miscarriage.
The new law is a win against religious reaction. The alliance of evangelical churches issued a statement calling it “a sad day.” After being mostly silent during Argentina’s 2018 abortion debate, the Catholic Argentine Bishops Conference denounced the “hypocrisy” of trying to legalise abortion in a year when the government asked Argentinians to “stay home to save lives” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Perhaps showing the strength of the green wave, the reactionaries’ wild card, the Argentine-born Pope Francis was relegated to sub-tweeting at the last minute, after not intervening in the public debate.
Hours before the Senate discussion was set to start, the pope tweeted:
“The Son of God was born discarded to tell us that every person discarded is a child of God. He came into the world as a child does, weak and fragile, so that we can embrace our weaknesses with tenderness,”
Pro-choice activists have campaigned for years to change the anti-abortion laws that date from 1921, adopting a green scarf as their symbol. The scarves are a nod to the women’s movement against the Argentine military dictatorship “Madres de Plaza de Mayo”, mothers who wore white scarves and demanded the return of their “disappeared” children.
Argentina’s abortion debate made international headlines in 2018 when millions of feminists waited in the streets for a Senate vote after legislators in the lower house of Congress approved a bill to legalise abortion. When the bill narrowly failed in the Senate, instead of retreating, activists pushed forward the movement to legalise abortion in what is now called “the green wave”.
The campaign was bolstered by growth in the women’s movement, in particular the outrage over violence and murder of women, rallying around the slogan and hashtag #NiUnaMenos (“NotOneLess”, meaning we must not lose one more woman to violence). We hope pro-choice activists across Latin America and the world can learn from the struggle in Argentina and continue to gain ground in this long-running struggle against reaction.