In Argentina, abortions are legal only if a pregnant person’s life is deemed to be in danger, or if a pregnancy can be proved to be the result of rape. As a result, between 350,000 and 500,000 women undergo illegal abortions each year. Between 45,000 and 65,000 are hospitalised annually due to botched procedures.
“If you are able to pay for an abortion, you will be fine”, Guadalupe explains. “They will give you an abortion in a private clinic, and you’ll be at a party by night time. But the majority of women who can’t pay for an abortion resort to clandestine centres, and they give abortions in terrible conditions.” She continues:
“It’s unhealthy. If the women get out alive, the most likely thing is that they have an infection, and they have to be hospitalised, or they have to have their uterus removed. They might have to be hospitalised for a couple of months, or they might die.”
This health emergency is easily preventable. “It would be so easy for abortions to be legal”, Guadelupe tells me, “and for women to just go to the chemist and buy drugs to induce abortions. It could be really quick and, with the correct medical advice, you would be fine and at peace with it. But as it is, it’s a big public health issue. The state has proved they don’t care.”
The campaign to legalise abortion has been going on in Argentina for more than a decade. It has intensified since 2015 with the launch of Ni Una Menos, which translates to “no woman left alone”. The Ni Una Menos movement fights against gender-based violence and has taken up the issue of abortion rights as an example of discrimination that results in violence and trauma for women.
Guadalupe tells me, “Women across Latin America have been inspired by the movement. It’s really beautiful – we do a lot of marches, it’s an active activism, we go to the streets, and we take the streets, and I can see that we are really empowered. You can see the difference in women. A woman who in 2014 had naturalised a lot of abuse and violence against her, now she stands up and says no. We have made a lot of people aware. Not only women but also men”.
Guadalupe explained that these struggles have a class character: “Women are the main producers of the capitalist system. Women constitute the majority of workers, and they are also the most precarious workers of all; we work in the worst conditions, we work for the worst pay, worst everything. The people against us say that abortion for women would cost millions to the state. If we won legal abortion, it would mean our victory against this patriarchal and capitalist system”.
Earlier this year a bill was presented to the Argentinian Congress to legalise abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Both supporters and opponents of women’s rights engaged in intensive campaigning to influence the vote.
Guadelupe describes how “the counter ‘movement’ just organised now in response to the bill. It is called ‘let’s save the two lives’, but they don’t care about the women, and they don’t care about the children who are now living in poverty around Argentina”.
On 4 June, the bill was debated in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Congress. Guadalupe was among the hundreds of thousands of abortion rights supporters who protested outside the government building in Buenos Aires.
“It was really cold – so cold I cannot describe. But we stayed in the square all night until midday of the next day. When they announced that the law had passed – we were dancing and crying. It was unbelievable – we have really achieved this, and we achieved it because we were there that day, we were there on the streets, pushing the government, pushing the people, we are millions and millions demanding the same thing.
“On the day of the bill, the ‘save two lives’ campaign was demonstrating against it. They divided the park outside Congress into two, one for our campaign and one for theirs. Obviously we didn’t fit in the square and were spilling onto the streets. The other side was a tiny bunch.”
Despite this historic victory, on 8 August the upper house, the Senate, eschewed democratic opinion by voting against legal abortion.
“It was a complete scandal”, Guadalupe tells me. “One of the senators even said that she hadn’t read the bill. Other senators said we have to differentiate the ‘common rapes’ from the ‘rapes that have a component of violence against women’. Another one of the senators was former president Carlos Menem, who said that, for personal reasons, he was against abortion. First, his job is to take decisions from the majority of society. What’s funny is that his ex-wife declared that he facilitated an abortion for her. They are a bunch of hypocrites. It’s so terrible: our law wasn’t passed because of those people.”
Ni Una Menos and the campaign for abortion rights have brought women’s rights into the forefront of political life in Argentina. One symbolic display of the movement’s impact is the proliferation of green napkins.
“In the past, before the feminist revolution, activists handed out these napkins on the street for free”, Guadalupe said, holding the napkin she keeps with her. “We call them panuelazo panuelo. They said keep it for the march but don’t show it to anyone. Before, we would hide them, but now all the women have napkins tied to their bags openly. You know that we are all together”.