Update 2 | Illegal Abortion in Argentina

The past two weeks I have been diving deeper into specific issues pertaining to illegal abortion in Argentina, specifically the intersections of religion and abortion and same-sex marriage and abortion. These topics were extremely interesting for me because they were what sparked my interest in the issue of illegal abortion in Argentina. As I stated in my abstract post, two of my main questions for this research project are:

  • What is the the role of the Catholic Church in preventing the legalization of abortion and how much power does the Church really have in Argentina?
  • How is the issue of same-sex marriage and its legalization similar and different to the issue of abortion?

As I expected, these questions have very nuanced and complex answers of which I will attempt to give an overview below.

Religion & Abortion:

The Catholic church is still a dominant force in Argentina; over 70% of people consider themselves Catholics, although much fewer are practicing Catholics. The Catholic church’s stance on abortion is that life starts at conception and, therefore, abortion under any circumstance amounts to the killing of an innocent life. Interestingly, the church and pro-choice feminist groups capitalize on the rhetoric of human rights – prominent in Argentine politics due to the oppressive dictatorship from 1976-1983 – albeit in very different ways; feminists focus on the human rights of the mother while the church focuses on the human rights of the unborn fetus. The church does not just rely on rhetorical opposition to abortion; in many ways it has both political and practical power to maintain restrictions on abortions. Politically, there are many extremely devout Catholics in the Argentine congress who are sympathetic to the church’s calls to restrict abortion; most notably, the chair of the committee that sees all legislation to legalize abortion is part of the Catholic faction and has actively suppressed said legislation, causing it to never be debated in the wider legislative body. Another important political connection is that of the Catholic church with the president; the closeness or distance between these two offices can be a strong determining factor in how much political support any calls to legalize abortion will get. Practically, the church works to make non-punishable abortions (those in the cases of risk to the mother’s health, rape, or if the mother is mentally disabled) less accessible. An interesting mechanism of this move towards more restriction is through bio-ethics counsels in hospitals. Non-punishable abortion cases in public hospitals generally are presented to a bio-ethics counsel to determine whether it meets the criteria of legal abortion in Argentina. On these counsels, there are both bio-ethics experts who are devout Catholics and/or attended a Catholic university and there are local bishops or priests. According to my research, the opinions of these two groups are given equal weight to the non-religiously affiliated experts and physicians on the counsel.

Same-sex marriage & Abortion:

Looking more closely at same-sex marriage in Argentina was very interesting. I have been confused for a while about how – if the Catholic church really has so much power to maintain the illegality of abortion – Argentina was the first country in the Western hemisphere to legalize same-sex marriage yet abortion remains illegal. There has been some interesting scholarship on this same topic in recent years. Many of the articles I read acknowledged that both abortion and same-sex marriage receive strong opposition from the Catholic church – the argument against same-sex marriage is that will destroy the traditional family and that children have the right to a mother and a father. There are a few key differences between the movements for same-sex marriage and abortion that researchers have cited as reason for the difference in their legal status. One is that the LGBTQ movement was able to work with some religious organizations and did not position themselves as opposite the church whereas the feminist movement has posited the church as their main opponent. Another is that the LGBTQ movement capitalized on the Kirchnerist (the main political party from 2003-2015) rhetoric of diversity and inclusion, leading to the movement gaining support from the party. Also, the presidents Kirchner gave their support to same-sex marriage whereas Cristina Kirchner was vocally opposed to abortion due to her religious beliefs. Another difference is that, while there was Catholic opposition, it was much weaker than the opposition the Catholic church puts up against abortion. Overall, these various forces combined to make it such that same-sex marriage is legal while abortion is illegal and criminal.


  1. cjhiggins01 says:

    Interesting- this does explain how the two movements have had different outcomes. It seems like church opposition can be overcome with political power- have you found anything about pro-choice Catholics who hold political office? I’m interested in the interplays between the power of religion, politics, and ideology, and I wonder how a pro-choice ideology might be balanced by the other two