Findings | Illegal Abortion in Argentina

Returning to the question I proposed at the outset of this research –how much power does the Catholic Church really have in regards to abortion and what other factors are at play– I can now see the beginnings of an answer that occurs in two parts. 1) Yes, the Catholic Church does have a huge influence on maintaining the illegality of abortion. Its ability to pressure legislators and prevent access to non-punishable abortions is immense. 2) Even still, the Catholic Church is not the only barrier to legalization. Since it is improbable to change the opinions of a 2,000 year old religious institution, I think understanding and overcoming the other barriers is a more effective strategy for the legalization movement to follow. Through the course of my research, I have determined four main conclusions of what can be done to further the feminist movement’s goal of abortion legalization: stronger political influence and presidential support, coalition building, control of rhetoric, and movement unity.

As I have explored through the examples of same-sex marriage legalization in Argentina and abortion legalization in Uruguay, having the support of the President is crucial for the passage of controversial social legislation such as the legalization of abortion. Without the support of the chief executive, the legalization movement faces an uphill battle, having to deal with increased difficulty of garnering support for the initiative, especially among the president’s political party, and a possible presidential veto. The support of the President gives more political clout to the issue, and makes the possibility of legalization more likely. As Macri, a staunch pro-life advocate, is the current President of Argentina, I find it unlikely that abortion would be legalized under his tenure. Feminists could instead start supporting pro-choice candidates who have the possibility of running for President. If no such candidates exist, feminists could try to encourage possible future candidates to support abortion legalization by showing them how much of a detriment illegal abortion is to Argentine women and by showing that the majority of Argentine society favors legalization. As is evident through the failure of legalization in Chile, though, solely having the support of the President is not enough to achieve legalization; instead other methods are needed.

Another political tactic that could be useful is the formation of political coalitions with left-leaning political parties. For the legalization process in Uruguay, having abortion legalization as a main goal of the leftist political party in power Frente Amplio was key to the lobbying effort that eventually led to legalization. Thus far, the feminist movement in Argentina has strong support from the socialist and communist parties in the country, but does not have the explicit support of the Peronist party – one of the most powerful center/center-left parties. From personal anecdotal evidence, it seems that many feminists are disillusioned with the Peronist party due to its failure to legalize abortion during the twelve years it held the presidency, but having the Peronist party in the pro-choice coalition would be invaluable for the legalization movement. With the current composition of the Congress (that is, with a conservative party in office), in the House of Representatives the leftist coalition could have a 5-vote majority if all of the leftist parties joined with the center/center-left Peronist parties, and in the Senate, the leftist coalition would have an overwhelming majority if it joined with the Peronist parties. Since the Frente para la Victoria (the Peronist political coalition) has the largest share of seats in the Senate and the second largest share of seats in the house, their support would be critical to any abortion legalization effort. A major barrier to greater Peronist support is a lack of knowledge about the importance of abortion as an economic and social issue. The center/center-left wing of the Peronist party, generally speaking, cares a lot about working class and economic issues and sees women’s issues as a distraction. To gain their support, the feminist movement could be more effective at communicating to the political leaders and legislators how abortion is and economic issue and why it most negatively affects the working class and poor people.

Additionally, as seen through coalitions build by the Uruguayan feminist movement and the Argentine LGBTQ movement, having coalitions with groups outside of politics, such as catholic organizations, labor unions, or interest groups, is extremely important as well. The feminist movement in Argentina is extremely critical of the Catholic Church which can be very isolating to pro-choice Catholics who would otherwise support the feminist cause. Though there are just reasons to critique the Church and its subjugation of women and staunch opposition to abortion legalization, the controversial nature of abortion means that feminists really cannot afford to lose potential supporters for their cause. Additionally, pro-choice Catholics are a good tool to have to deflect some of the vitriolic attacks of the Church and to convince politicians of the widespread base of support for legal abortion. Another potential move for the feminist movement is to identify and work with other interest groups or labor unions that are powerholders within the Argentine context. Labor unions were major powerholders in Uruguay, so the feminist movement’s development of a relationship with them was a key tactical move. Argentine feminists could identify relevant groups within their own context that have social and political capital that would benefit the legalization movement and then work to convince those groups of the importance legal abortion would have on their members or greater society.

A third major component of the legalization movement would be to control the rhetoric about abortion. Uruguayan feminists were very adept at controlling rhetoric and focusing the discussion on women’s rights and public health, but in Argentina the Catholic Church has been more successful than the feminists at controlling the public discourse on abortion, thus promoting their image of abortion as the murder of an innocent life. The arguments of women’s rights as human rights and public health seems to be an effective combination, but it is not as publically recognized in Argentina as the dominant discourse on abortion. Additionally, it would be important for the feminist movement to have a unified message to make their calls for change more effective.

The fourth strategy the Argentine feminist movement could adopt is to find more intra-movement unity. There has been a lot of divisiveness within the movement regarding best strategies, but it is crucial that the movement come together to support this issue as a unified front. No matter the strategy, presenting their argument as a unified movement would be immensely more effective than the current divisiveness.

This research entails only a surface-level analysis of various issues that contribute to the illegality of abortion in Argentina. Many scholars, including ones in the reference section, have gone much deeper into very specific parts of the issue. One strength of this research is that by bringing together the analysis of such a broad scope of research about illegal abortion in Argentina, it gives a clearer view of the multiplicity of issues which can hopefully inform a future course of action for the abortion legalization movement. I am very hopeful about the possibility of abortion legalization within the next ten years in Argentina as long as the feminist movement can maintain its energy and improve its strategy in some of the ways mentioned above.

Some additional topics of analysis that I encountered while conducting this research but did not have time to explore deeper are as follows: a look at historical pro-natalism policy in Argentina, giving particular attention to the encouragement of European immigration in the early-1900s; la Campaña del Desierto and the genocide of indigenous peoples, looking at the existence or not of sterilization of indigenous women or killings of women and children as a eugenics based foil to the encouragement of later European immigration; a deeper discussion of the impact of the 1976-1983 dictatorship on ideas of womanhood, motherhood, and abortion; the effect of female participation in politics on abortion politics, looking at Eva Peron, the current gender quota system, and other female leaders such as Fernandez de Kirchner.