Argentina’s Senate Thursday morning rejected a measure to legalize abortion up to 14 weeks. The final vote, 38 to 31 with two abstentions, deals a heavy blow to a grassroots movement that has long tried to legalize abortion.
About 60 percent of residents supported the measure to legalize abortion countrywide, according to Argentina’s Amnesty International director Mariela Belski.
“Lawmakers chose today to turn their backs on hundreds of thousands of women and girls who have been fighting for their sexual and reproductive rights,” Belski told the Guardian. “All that this decision does is perpetuate the circle of violence which women, girls and others who can become pregnant are forced into.”
While it’s currently illegal to get abortions in Argentina, 500,000 abortions are performed annually in the country, according to the National Ministry of Health. And people who have abortions can be jailed up to four years. There are exceptions in cases of rape or when the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk, but “those exceptions are not actually honored,” Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, told the New York Times.
The grassroots movement to change the status quo began in 2015 as outrage intensified over gender violence, particularly on pregnant girls. Activists scored a win roughly two months ago when Argentina’s lower house of Congress voted to legalize abortion.
The vote itself was historic, as ThinkProgress’ Casey Quinlan explained:
This vote is particularly important in the larger context of reproductive rights in Latin America, where six countries have a complete ban on abortion and most countries only allow people to get abortions with exceptions such as fatal fetal abnormalities, rape, and risk to their health. Research shows that more than 97 percent of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean are located in countries where abortion laws are restrictive and 10 percent of all maternal deaths in these regions in 2014 happened due to unsafe abortions.
People online expressed solidarity with reproductive rights activists in Argentina, many of whom were Ireland-based. Residents in Ireland, a deeply Catholic country like Argentina, voted to legalize abortion ban in May. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) tweeted, “the experience in Ireland shows that once there’s momentum for change, it becomes unstoppable: sooner rather than later.”
Sad news from Argentina as senate rejects bill to legalise abortion. But the experience in Ireland shows that once there's momentum for change, it becomes unstoppable: sooner rather than later #AbortoLegalYahttps://t.co/0nSlJVmD2C
— IFPA (@IrishFPA) August 9, 2018
Thoughts and solidarity with Argentinian women and activists as the Senate narrowly rejects bill to legalise abortion. Reproductive control goes to the heart of women’s equality. Change will come. #AbortoLegalYA https://t.co/pF0otn7dyy
— Womenscouncilireland (@NWCI) August 9, 2018
Activists in other countries, partly inspired by the campaign in Argentina, are pushing to expand reproductive rights, including neighboring Brazil. Brazilian activists have recently called on the Supreme Court to rule that the country’s abortion restrictions are unconstitutional.
It’s unclear what exactly is next for the movement in Argentina, but activists sound resilient on Twitter.
Hay que cambiar la forma de elegir a nuestros representantes. Es muy difícil votar legisladores a la carta por sus ideas. Vienen en listas previamente definidas. La clase política se va a abroquelar. Pero hay que empujar eso.
— Deci 💚☘🍏 (@decimononnica) August 9, 2018
“We have to change the way we choose our representatives,” tweeted one such activist.