While abortion stigma can be manifested in many ways, criminalization is perhaps the most urgent form of abortion stigma to be tackled in Argentina, where abortions are permitted only when the pregnancy is a product of rape or poses a risk to the woman´s health. Unfortunately even under those circumstances, criminalization and stigma make abortions in Argentina highly inaccessible, especially for low-income women who do not always have access to adequate health care. As a result criminalization also increases inequality, disproportionally effecting poor and young women. In coordination with allied organizations, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) has continued to work toward the decriminalization and legalization of abortion in Argentina.
As part of this effort, CELS received an inroads Seed Grant to support the translation of the “10 reasons to legalize early abortions”, which attempts to destigmatize abortion at the legal level from a human rights perspective. Over the last few weeks there have been a few important developments in this regard.
CELS is a member of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, a national network of organizations that has spearheaded the struggle to legalize abortions in Argentina, having presented the bill for voluntary pregnancy interruption to Congress for the first time in 2007. On June 30, the Campaign formally presented the bill to legislators for the sixth time. With the support of inroads, beforehand we released a multimedia campaign to raise awareness and public support for the decriminalization and legalization of abortions. This consisted of a special website on “10 reasons to legalize early abortions” that included brochures in English and Spanish, multimedia materials promoting the decriminalization of abortions, and a recent study we published with the support of International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere Region that evaluates public policy capacities to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights in Argentina and provides a guide to evaluate those capacities. The materials were widely shared on social media to the point where #abortolegal (#legalabortion) was trending on Twitter in Argentina the day of the bill’s unveiling. The bill was presented with the support of 38 legislators from across the political spectrum and will be taken under consideration in the Health Commission of the lower house of Congress in September 2016.
The bill’s presentation comes at a time when an emblematic case of the dire consequences of the criminalization of abortions – known as “Belen’s case” – is being appealed in the courts. Belen, who went to a public hospital in the province of Tucuman to be treated for stomach pains, was sentenced to eight years in prison for homicide after suffering a miscarriage of a pregnancy she was not even aware of. On July 1, CELS and nine other human rights organizations submitted various amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court of Tucuman in support of her judicial appeal. Belen has already served two years of pretrial detention. Cases like Belen’s demonstrate just how devastating the consequences of abortion stigma can be when embedded in national legislation.
The relaunching of the bill also coincided with the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s evaluation of Argentina’s fulfillment of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CELS took advantage of the evaluation to present a shadow report with a specific joint report on the abortion situation in Argentina to bring Belen’s case to the UN’s attention. In the Concluding Observations released on July 15, the Committee recommended both the decriminalization of abortion in Argentina and Belen’s immediate release, indicating that “the state must review ‘the case of Belen’ in light of international standards on the matter, with a view to her immediate liberation, and in light of this case, consider decriminalizing abortion.”
The struggle to decriminalize and legalize abortion in Argentina continues, but the movement is receiving more attention and gaining more support. Using international human rights standards and mechanisms to combat abortion stigma in Argentina is just one of the ways this movement is gaining momentum. The Argentine state must take measures to fulfill its international commitments, not just for Belen, but for the sake of gender equality.