Legal Abortion in Argentina: A Great Victory

By the Unified Socialist Workers’ Party of Argentina (PSTU, Spanish: Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores Unificado) and Lucha Mujer (English: Women’s Struggle), translated to English by Dolores Underwood
The days prior to December 29th were filled with anxiety, doubt, and sleepless nights: would this be the moment that all our efforts would finally lead to victory? The preparations for the day’s mobilizations had been thought out. This time, Argentine women did not want to go home empty-handed or with promises of “not this time, but soon.” We did not want to repeat 2018. We went all out, and that’s how we won a historic victory. We’re filled with strength to continue in this fight and there is still much to be won, but we’re invigorated by this first step.

A victory for all of Latin America

Legalized abortion in Argentina, after a long fight and thousands of mobilizations in the streets over years, not only has importance for our country, but for the rest of Latin America and the entire world. Chileans have already begun a discussion on the decriminalization of abortion, and surely this will begin to expand to many other countries on the continent. The necessity of access to free and safe abortion is ubiquitous for all of the continent. Very few countries in Latin America currently provide access to abortion: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guiana, French Guiana, Uruguay, and two states in Mexico (Mexico City and Oaxaca). Now we add Argentina to the list.

A law passed with too many loopholes

The legalization of abortion in Argentina is a huge win for women and the popular sector. We fought in the streets for this democratic right. This particularly applies to undocumented women who, due to their legal status, do not have the economic resources to obtain a safe abortion. Furthermore, this marks an important step forward in the fight for women’s right to choose if and when to become mothers.
For these reasons, what we’ve achieved is a first step to continue fighting against the limitations that the law itself imposes.
We will continue to face objections, and we must continue to organize the popular sectors to meet these hurdles with mobilizations. One such obstacle is the exception of “conscientious objection,” whereby a doctor can refuse to perform an abortion based on their religious beliefs. The pressure from the church, and also in many unions and the health insurance groups that they are affiliated with, has come out in favor of “both lives.” These groups will pressure many healthcare professionals to avoid performing abortions.
Just this week, all of the professionals in a private clinic in San Juan declared themselves conscientious objectors, which means that no one in that medical center is obligated to comply with the law and provide abortions to those who need them. We can never forget that the approved “1,000 Day Plan” took place in that province, with the clear objective of “convincing” women, and impoverished pregnant women in particular, to continue their pregnancies whatever the circumstance in exchange for a meager state subsidy that only lasts for the first two years of the child’s life.
If many health establishments choose to do the same, where exactly will the new abortion law be put into force? The institutionalization of conscientious objections will guarantee that few places will provide abortions. We will have to organize and mobilize ourselves to defeat this loophole, which in practice throws away all that we’ve won.
In the same way, the antichoice sectors have already called for the law to be struck down as unconstitutional, a call that has had an echo in the male-chauvinist and classist legislative branch, who are always opponents of our class. And they’ve hit on a specific point: that the national constitution establishes that life begins at the moment of conception. To this they’ve added the Civil Code upheld by Kirchnerism in 2014, which argues that life begins at conception. They are arguing that they won’t modify the law, even when it is contrary to the new law that was just passed. For that reason, it is fundamental in our struggle to eliminate all of the articles, both in the National Constitution and any Civil, Criminal, and Commercial Code that are contradictory to the approved law and which can serve as a means to deny the right to a legal abortion in Argentina.
Furthermore, the minister of Women, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, has already declared that the application of the law will be slow, but not only because of the time it takes to be regulated and implemented, but also because not all the provinces and their hospitals have the resources to implement the law. There aren’t sufficient resources to alleviate the Covid pandemic, yet the budget for 2021 was approved with clauses that require external debt payments and to the IMF. This shows the prioritization of capital over basic social needs in our country: health, work, education, housing, etc.
The Argentinian state continues to provide millions in subsidies to the Catholic Church and its educational institutions, at the same time as it tells us that there is no more money for the needs of the working class. The separation between Church and state is essential. This money must go towards the education and health of the popular sectors.
All of these questions will be issues that we will have to continue to struggle against for the effective and safe implementation of the new law, and for that reasons one of the most important next tasks will be to defeat them, so that every woman, pregnant or poor and from the popular sector, will really be able to access a legal abortion.

Another step back: the current government intervenes

On the day of the vote, it was the National Campaign for a Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion itself that acted as the spokesperson for the government’s plans. From the stage constructed in the middle of the Plaza Congreso, and from each huge screen placed within the enclosure to follow the debate, we could see the official campaign abandon every critique of the limitations of a project that did not belong to them to concede.
Although we, the PSTU, did not promote the National Campaign as our own platform due to its serious limitations, we think that the National Campaign platform nonetheless would have been far superior to the law that was eventually voted through. But on the day of the vote, the National Campaign spokespeople did nothing to address these critiques, nor did they even mention them. On the contrary, they took on the role as the champions of the “great triumph that came from Alberto’s government.”
At the same time, the feminist collective “Ni una menos” introduced the idea that without Alberto and his Ministry of Women the victory wouldn’t have been possible in the first place. Years of carrying flags and fighting for the right to an abortion were forgotten, years of massive mobilizations discredited by telling the world that the victory was solely due to the current government.
About this we will be clear. The legalization is a victory of the organization and mobilization of a movement of women and all of the struggles therein. This was born of occupying colleges in 2018, in the campaigns of places of work, of the pañuelazos, mobilizations, days under the rain and cold through which we incessantly marched with green bandanas in our hands.
Because of the crippling effects of the economic crisis combined with the pandemic, and considering the complaints and back-and-forth within the current administration in 2020, this government was forced to grab onto this mobilization to try to take control of our victory. We started this fight, and we know this because like in all fights in the history of the struggle, we know nothing is ever given for free. It is also important to point out that as it stands, the law doesn’t contest the current budget, which the executive branch could have easily chosen to do, it simply puts forward a few dissenting proposals from within the same party with distinct concessions to “win over the undecideds”.

Unite and coordinate our fight to win

The lessons from this fight will serve us for the future. If this is a triumph for the working class and popular sectors it because, despite the leadership, there was a mass movement: this was a long fight that took years.
PSTU and Lucha Mujer took up this struggle and we brought it to our places of work, student centers, labor unions and neighborhoods. For that reason, distinct sectors, like the workers in BedTime, catalyzed actions. And this all despite the major unions and distinct syndicalist groups that preferred to shut up rather than call a single activity to support our struggle. A noticeable absence came from the Mujeres Sindicalistas from the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) as well as the CTA (Argentine Workers’ Central Union), who didn’t propose anything from their unions to push the working class, men and women, towards the fight for the legalization of abortion. Like the major unions they represent, they also are a part of Pacto Social who sit down at the negotiation table with Fernández’s government to continue supporting him and his policies, despite their deficiencies, or even despite their unpopularity.
As we mentioned, this fight serves as a trampoline to achieve what we need for women, oppressed sectors and the working class in its entirety. We have a very rough fight ahead of us to eradicate violence against women. Just last year, a femicide was registered every 29 hours in our country. Violence is a true tragedy, of which there are still no clear responses on the part of the government.
The fight against violence is the path to follow, and for it, we need to achieve the total economic independence of women, safe houses, formal work, housing, and other necessities. This is a much more profound fight. Here we lack more than just laws, which in some cases exist but are totally useless in practice.
We need to demand that the national and local governments take this up as a priority and guarantee a standard of living for women, especially for women among the popular and working-class sectors. It isn’t enough to just condemn the patriarchy with words. We need actions and concrete politics against machista violence. To achieve this, we need to reject the IMF payments and put all the resources of the country above the earnings of the elite towards the needs of workers.
This fight must be taken without a splintering of the class, with a profound unity among workers, men and women, the popular sectors, because it is a fight for all of our recognition. There is no other way to achieve this, and we have the strength to do it!
We must unite all of our forces to eradicate a system that maintains us oppressed and exploited. This can only be achieved by a different kind of government, where workers and the people are the ones who have the power.
For PSTU and Lucha Mujer, our fight includes these larger objectives, and we invite you to join us in this struggle.
The original statement can be found in Spanish here.

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