Update 1 | Illegal Abortion in Argentina

I am taking a strong critical feminist viewpoint of illegal abortion in Argentina, so, therefore, I chose to start my research with a survey of feminist literature on the topics of abortion and reproductive rights. I really wanted to create a foundation from the feminist theory on which I will be able to build my future analysis. This process was very successful; I read and analyzed 10 different sources, ranging from abstract feminist theory to feminist critiques of policy to feminist public health studies. The main highlights that feminist literature provides to the analysis of abortion in Argentina are that 1) abortion is a fundamentally feminist issue because access or lack thereof has a huge influence in determining women’s life trajectory; 2) anti-choice advocates fundamentally regard the rights of the un-born fetus as supreme over the rights of the mother whereas feminists center the rights of the mother; 3) abortion restrictions most profoundly impact poorer women who rely on public health services and cannot afford services in private clinics; 4) abortion is a public health issue, as unsafe abortion in legally restrictive contexts leads to thousands of unnecessary maternal deaths per year; and 5) women’s control of their bodies is inextricably linked to their standing as equal members of society. These insights from feminist literature spanning over 4 decades will serve as an anchor for my analysis of future texts that address the issue of abortion specifically in Argentina.

After immersing myself in feminist literature, I transitioned to learning about the historical, political, and social context of abortion in Argentina. I wanted to understand this broad subject before delving deeply into more specific details of the issue. This part of my research has been fascinating because it has exposed the incongruent and inconsistent historical and current policy regarding abortion. Abortion in Argentina was illegal in all cases during the 1800s. In 1921, the Penal Code was updated to include three exceptions to the ban on abortion: 1) in cases where the mother’s health was in danger, 2) in cases of sexual assault, and 3) in cases where the mother has a mental disability. This remained the abortion policy until the 1960s and the presidency of Isabel Peron (wife of the famous late-Juan Peron) who outlawed abortion in all cases as well as all other forms of family planning to deal with declining birth rates that posed a “national security risk.” This policy was continued into the following military dictatorship and was only reversed with the return to democracy in 1983 when the government returned to the 1921 abortion policy. This did not end the debate, though, as a dropped semi-colon in the 1983 re-writing of the policy led some to believe that abortion was only allowed in two cases: 1) in cases where the mother’s health was in danger and 2) in cases of sexual assault where the mother has a mental disability. Excluding cases of less specific sexual assault excluded many women from the provisions of non-punishable abortions. This issue was not settled until almost 30 years after the return to democracy with a 2012 Supreme Court case that clarified the rights of women who became pregnant due to a sexual assault to obtain an abortion. The circuitous nature of exceptions to the abortion ban is just one example of how complex and interesting the context of abortion in Argentina really is.

My next order of business for research is to dive more deeply into the relationship between abortion and religion, specifically the Catholic Church, in Argentina. The Catholic Church does hold a lot of power in the country, so I am excited to explore how they have utilized that power in the abortion debate, why it has been so effective in maintaining illegality, and what the limitations of such power may be.


  1. achennesseynil says:

    First off, this was a fascinating read, particularly for someone who isn’t extremely knowledgeable on the subject. One main question I had when reading this post was if there was a specific event that led to the change of the penal code in 1921, or if was a change that had been building for many years and finally came to fruition?

    Additionally, when the policy was re-written in 1983 featuring the dropped semi-colon, you state that it “led some to believe” abortion was only allowed in two cases. This made me wonder what the legal stance on abortion was during this time, as if only some believed that it was legal in only two cases, whereas others believed it to be permissible in 3, the legal stance would be subjective and depend on judges hearing cases. I may be totally base with this inquiry, but it was definitely something that intrigued me.

    Keep up the great work!