A Case for Legal Abortion

The Human Cost of Barriers to Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Argentina

Authored by: Sabrina Cartabia Groba and Sonia Ariza Navarrete

Categories: Global Public Health, Human Rights
Sub-Categories: Access to Justice and Rule of Law, COVID-19, Human Development, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health
Country: Argentina
Region: Latin America and the Caribbean
Year: 2020
Citation: Cartabia Groba, Sabrina and Sonia Ariza Navarrete. "A Case for Legal Abortion: The Human Cost of Barriers to Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Argentina." Human Rights Watch. August 2020.

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Executive Summary

When the Argentine Senate narrowly rejected a bill to decriminalize abortion in 2018, the country missed a historic opportunity to advance sexual and reproductive rights. Rejection of the reform has left women, girls and pregnant people in Argentina, particularly those who are low income and live in rural areas, with limited access to abortion, seriously undermining their lives and health. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown create new barriers for women and girls to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.

A nearly century-old “exceptions model” largely bans abortion in Argentina. Section 86 of the 1921 criminal code allows three exceptions to an otherwise blanket criminal prohibition. Abortion is allowed only when a pregnancy endangers the life or health of a woman, girl, or pregnant person or when it results from rape. In all other circumstances, abortion is banned and punished. The criminal code imposes prison sentences of up to 4 years on women who self-induce or consent to an abortion and up to 15 years on anyone who provides them.

The 2018 draft bill, proposed by the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations throughout the country, would have largely done away with the exceptions model and decriminalized abortion. It would have granted anyone who becomes pregnant access to abortion for whatever reason in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. After 14 weeks, the exceptions model of section 86 would have remained in force, but with an additional exception when the fetus has serious complications incompatible with life outside of the womb.

The debate in Congress was, highly contentious throughout the country, reflecting a deep rift in Argentine society. The green scarves of pro-choice champions and, to a lesser extent, the light blue scarves of opposition groups colored the streets, as demonstrations grew. The debate took over dinner-table conversations among families and friends. On June 13, 2018, the 257-member Chamber of Deputies approved the bill, moving it to the Senate. On August 8, the 72-member Senate rejected the bill by a seven-vote margin, with three abstentions.