- Abortion in Argentina
Abortion in Argentina is strictly limited by law. As of 2008, the Argentine Penal Code establishes severe sanctions for those who cause
abortion, either willingly or not, and for women who consent to it, and special punishments for physicians and other healthcare agents. [Abortion Laws of the World. [http://annualreview.law.harvard.edu/population/abortion/Argentina.abo.htm Argentina] .]
In Argentina, abortion is illegal in every case, but it is considered "not punishable" in certain circumstances:
# If it is performed in order to avoid harm to the woman's life or health, as long as there are no other means to avoid such harm. ("Health" has been interpreted, lately, to include mental as well as physical health, in Buenos Aires Province.)
# If the pregnancy was the result of
rapein a mentally incapable woman (in which case the procedure needs the consent of her legal representative).
Abortion complications are the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina (30% of the total, around 100 annual deaths). Until 2007 there were no confirmed figures of performed abortions; health authorities estimated 500,000 per year (40% of all pregnancies), in most cases presumably illegal and often outside proper sanitary conditions. Around 80,000 patients per year are hospitalized due to post-abortion complications (and must face legal punishment). Many failed abortion attempts and deaths due to them are not recorded as such and/or are not notified to the authorities. [cite web |url=http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/06/15/argent11093.htm |title=Argentina: Limits on Birth Control Threaten Human Rights |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Human Rights Watch. ] [cite web |url=http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/argentina.html |title=The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Argentina |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin ] [cite web |url=http://www.plannedparenthood.org/news-articles-press/politics-policy-issues/international-issues/abortion-in-argentina.htm |title=Abortion in Argentina |author=Nadia Berenstein |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Planned Parenthood ] Citation broken|date=August 2008
A complete scientific study of abortion (the first in its kind in Argentina), commissioned by the Ministry of Health and performed by several independent organizations, was released in June 2007. Using indirect methods on figures from the National Health and Nutrition Survey and combining them with data from healthcare facilities, the study concluded with a minimum figure of 460,000 and a maximum of 615,000 voluntary terminations of pregnancy per year (around 60 abortions per 1,000 women). The researchers assumed that for every woman that seeks medical help due to complications of abortion, seven others do not. [cite news|publisher=Página/12 |date=2 June 2007 |accessdate=2007-06-02 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-85908-2007-06-02.html |title=Las cifras para abrir el debate]
Legal and political debate
Constitution of Argentinadoes not establish specific provisions for abortion, but the 1994 reform added constitutional status for a number of international pacts, such as the Pact of San José, which declares the right to life "in general, from the moment of conception". The interpretation of the expression "in general" in certain cases of abortion is still subject to debate.
In 1998, after a visit to the Vatican and an interview with
Pope John Paul II, President Carlos Menempassed a decree declaring 25 Marchthe Day of the Unborn Child. The date was due to the Catholic holiday of the Annunciation(that is, the revelation to Mary that she would conceive the Son of God). The Menem administration had already aligned with the Holy Seein its complete rejection of abortionand contraception. During the first celebration of the new holiday, in 1999, the President stated that "the defense of life" was "a priority of [Argentina's] foreign policy". [cite web |url=http://www.vidahumana.org/dia/discurso.html |title=Speech by President Menem during the commemoration of the Day of the Unborn Child |date= 25 March 1999|language=Spanish]
Fernando de la Rúa(1999–2001) was not outspoken about its Catholic belief and its influence in government policies, but effectively kept them unchanged.
Néstor Kirchner(elected in 2003) professes the Catholic faith but is considered more progressive than his predecessors. In 2005, Health Minister Ginés González Garcíapublicly stated his support for the legalization of abortion. Kirchner did neither support nor criticize González García's opinion in public. In a private interview, later, he assured that the law regarding abortion would not be changed during his term. In any case, harsh criticism from the Catholic Churchsoon shifted the focus to a "war of words" between the religious hierarchy and the national government. [cite news |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-47334-2005-02-14.html |title='Me ofrecieron millones para frenar los genéricos' |date=2005-02-14 |accessdate=2006-08-29 |publisher=Página/12 |language=Spanish] [cite news |url=http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=3115 |title=Argentinean Health Minister declares legalization of abortion part of his agenda |date=2005-02-15 |accessdate=2006-08-29 |publisher=Catholic News Agency ] [cite news |url=http://atheism.about.com/b/a/162372.htm |title=Argentina: Row Over Church & State |date=2005-02-19 |accessdate=2006-08-29 |publisher=About.com ] Carmen Argibay, the first woman ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Argentinaby a democratic government, also caused great controversy as she admitted her support for abortion rights. Pro-life organizations, led by the Catholic Church, expressed their opposition to the appointment for this cause. [cite news |url=http://www.humaniststudies.org/enews/?id=121&showAll=true#0 |title=Atheist Heads to High Court Seat |date=2004-01-28 |accessdate=2006-08-29 |publisher=Institute for Humanist Studies] [cite web |url=http://www.aica.org/index2.php?pag=actargibay |title=Impugnaciones a la doctora Argibay |accessdate=2006-08-29 |publisher=Argentine Catholic News Agency |language=Spanish ]
In May 2006 the government made public a project to reform the Penal Code, which includes the de-criminalization of abortion. A commission studied the issue and produced a draft, intended to be presented to Congress. The project was signed by the Secretary of Criminal Policy and Penitentiary Affairs, Alejandro Slokar. On
28 May 2007, a group of 250 NGOs forming the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion presented a draft legislative bill to the Argentine Chamber of Deputiesthat would provide unrestricted access to abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and allow women to abort after that time in cases of rape, grave fetal malformations and mental or physical risk to the woman. [cite web|url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-85628-2007-05-28.html |title="Para que la maternidad sea una elección" |publisher=Página/12 |language=Spanish |accessdate=2007-06-02 |date=28 May 2007] [cite news |publisher=Inter Press Service |url=http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37922 |title=ARGENTINA: Abortion - No Longer a Taboo Subject |author=Marcela Valente]
To date, though, no formal legislative debate about abortion has been conducted in Argentina. [cite web |url=http://www.jus.gov.ar/guia/content_codigo_penal.htm |title=Comisión para la Elaboración del Proyecto de Ley de Reforma y Actualización Integral del Código Penal |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish |publisher=Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Argentine Republic ] [cite news |url=http://www.reddesalud.org/espanol/sitio/info.asp?Ob=1&Id=291 |title=Argentina: Gobierno abre debate sobre despenalización del aborto |date=2006-05-23 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Red de Salud de las Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe |language=Spanish]
It is often the case that women who may have sought an abortion under the legal provisions of the Penal Code are not appropriately (or at all) informed of this possibility by the attending physicians, or are subject to long delays when they request a legal abortion. Physicians, due to lack of knowledge of the law and fearing legal punishment, often demand that the patient or her family request judicial authorization before terminating a pregnancy, which sometimes can extend the wait beyond the time when it is advisable to abort.
In March 2007,
Buenos Aires Provincehealth authorities released a protocol addressing the provision of legal abortion procedures without delays or need for judicial authorization. The main change regarding previous treatments of abortion was the explicit recognition that any case of rape can be a threat to the psychic health of the victim and thus justify an abortion request. [cite news |publisher=Página/12 |date=18 March 2007 |accessdate=2007-03-18 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-81914-2007-03-18.html |title=Guía pública para los abortos no punibles |language=Spanish]
An abortion protocol drafted by the
National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism(INADI)Who?|date=August 2008 was presented, starting in May 2007, to provincial health ministers and legislatures for consideration. This protocol includes a series of procedures to be conducted in order to assess an abortion and the maximum permissible time spans for them. It also features a proposal to create a national registry of conscientious objectors. [cite news |publisher=Página/12 |date=23 May 2007 |accessdate=2007-06-15 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/sociedad/subnotas/85390-27406-2007-05-23.html |title=Pasos y plazos ante un caso |language=Spanish] [cite web |publisher=INADI |title=General Recommendation No. 002/07: Discrimination in the provision of healthcare for cases of legal abortion and post-abortion treatment |url=http://www.inadi.gov.ar/uploads/recomendaciones/recomendacion2sobreabortoslegales.pdf |date=23 May 2007 |accessdate=2007-06-15 |ldanguage=Spanish]
In June 2007, the legislative body of Rosario,
Santa Fe Province, adopted a protocol similar to that of Buenos Aires. Physicians assisting a woman covered by Article 86 of the Penal Code are obligated to explain her condition to the patient, offering the choice of terminating the pregnancy, as well as counseling before and after the abortion. The protocol explicitly forbids the judicialization of the procedure and warns that physicians who delay a legal abortion are liable to administrative sanctions and civil or penal prosecution. [cite news |publisher=Rosario/12 |date=15 June 2007 |accessdate=2007-06-15 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/suplementos/rosario/9-8967-2007-06-15.html |title=Para que no haya ninguna duda |language=Spanish] [cite web |author=Pablo Colono |publisher=Deliberative Council of Rosario |date=March 2007 |url=http://www.concejorosario.gov.ar/proyectos/procolono62.htm |title=Project of bill for the creation of a "Protocol for the Integral Attention of the Woman in Cases of Non-punishable Abortion" |language=Spanish]
In November 2007, the legislature of
La Pampa Provincepassed an abortion protocol law which included provisions for conscientious objectors and dictated that public hospitals would have to comply with an abortion request in any case. This would have made La Pampa the first district in Argentina to have an abortion protocol with the status of provincial law. [cite news |publisher=Página/12 |date=28 November 2007 |accessdate=2007-11-28 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/sociedad/3-95361-2007-11-28.html |title=Un derecho garantizado por ley |language=Spanish] [cite news |publisher=Página/12 |date=29 November 2007 |accessdate=2007-11-29 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/ultimas/20-95462-2007-11-29.html |title=Abortos no punibles garantizados |language=Spanish] The law, howevever, was vetoed by governor Oscar Mario Jorgeas one of his first acts of government, less than three weeks later, with the argument that its new interpretation of previous legislation could be deemed unconstitutional. The protocol had been attacked with the same argument by the bishop of Santa Rosa, Rinaldo Fidel Bredice, on the day it was first passed. [cite news |publisher=Página/12 |date=18 December 2007 |accessdate=2007-12-18 |url=http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/sociedad/3-96335-2007-12-18.html
title=Un veto de la hostia |language=Spanish]
Argentina has a robust network of women's organizations whose demands include public access to abortion and contraception, such as the Women's Informative Network of Argentina (RIMA) and Catholic Women for the Right to Choose ("Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir"). The National Women's Meeting, held annually in different cities, gathers these and other feminist and pro-choice groups. The 20th Women's Meeting, held in October 2005 in
Mar del Plata, included a 30,000-people demonstration asking for unrestricted abortion.
The opposition to abortion is centered on two fronts: the religious one, led by the Catholic Church, and voiced by the ecclesiastical hierarchy and a number of civil organizations, which consider abortion the murder of an innocent person; and the legal one, represented by those who understand that abortion is forbidden by the Constitution (which must override the Penal Code).
A survey conducted in early 2005, commissioned by the Argentine branch of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, showed that 76% respondents were in favour of legalizing abortion for cases of rape (that is, regardless of the mental capacity of the woman), and that many also wanted abortion legalized when the fetus suffers from a deformity that will make it impossible for it to survive outside the womb. A December 2003 Graciela Romer y Asociados survey found that 30% of Argentines thought that abortion should be allowed "regardless of situation", 47% that it should be allowed "under some circumstances", and 23% that it should not be allowed "regardless of situation". [" [http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm/fuseaction/viewItem/itemID/2029 Argentines Assess Abortion Changes] ." (Mar. 4, 2004). "Angus Reid Global Monitor". Retrieved January 10, 2006.]
It is a common belief in Argentina that, the higher the economic status of the pregnant woman, the easier it is for her to get a safe abortion, while poorer women often cannot afford a clandestine procedure under sanitary conditions or post-abortion care.
Several cases of pregnancy resulting from rape and one involving a nonviable fetus have sparked debate about abortion in Argentina since the beginning of the 21st century.
In 2001, 25-year-old Luciana Monzón, from
Rosario, Santa Fe, discovered that the fetus in her womb, at 16 weeks of gestation, was anencephalic. There was virtually no chance of survival for the baby once it left the womb. Four weeks later she asked for judicial authorization to terminate the pregnancy. First one judge and then another excused themselves from dealing with the request, and the case went to the Supreme Court of Santa Fe, which dictated that the first judge should decide. By that time, however, Monzón had decided to take it to term, because of the delay. The baby was born spontaneously, weighing only 558 grams, and died 45 minutes after birth. [cite news |title=Una mujer aún espera que la Justicia responda a su pedido de aborto terapéutico |url=http://www.lacapital.com.ar/2001/10/23/articulo_16.html |publisher=La Capital |date=2001-10-23 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ] [cite news |title=Anencefalia: sigue con su embarazo por una demora de la Justicia |url=http://www.clarin.com/diario/2001/11/03/s-04901.htm |publisher=Clarín |date=2001-11-03 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ] [cite news |title=Muere bebé de mujer que había solicitado a la justicia abortar |url=http://www.cimacnoticias.com/noticias/01nov/01111413.html |publisher=CIMAC Noticias |date=2001-11-14 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ]
In 2003, a 19-year-old rape victim from
Jujuy Province, Romina Tejerina, had a baby in secret and killed her, according to tests, in a psychotic episode. In 2005 she was sentenced to 14 years in prison. She had not accused the rapist, and had managed to conceal her state. Townspeople, public figures and some politicians expressed her support for Tejerina as a victim, and many pointed out that she should have had the chance to resort to abortion. Most notably, the sentence prompted Health Minister Ginés González Garcíato state his support for legal abortion for rape victims. [cite news |title=Romina Tejerina: "Si hubiera quedado embarazada de quien quería, no lo habría hecho" |url=http://www.clarin.com/diario/2005/06/12/sociedad/s-04215.htm |publisher=Clarín |date=2005-06-12 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ] [cite news |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/argentina/story/0,,1499917,00.html |title=Jailed baby killer fuels debate on abortion after rape |date=2005-06-05 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Guardian Unlimited ] [cite news |url=http://www.oneworld.net/article/view/112254/1/ |title=Promising Signs in Argentine Struggle for Safe, Legal Abortion |date=2005-05-28 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=OneWorld.net ]
The 2006 cases
In 2006, two cases of rape of mentally disabled women became subject of extensive media coverage and debate. One of them involved 19-year-old L.M.R., from Guernica,
Buenos Aires Province. Her mother noticed the pregnancy, guessed what had taken place, and went to the public San Martín Hospital in La Platato request the abortion, allowed under the provisions of the Penal Code. The Ethics Committee of the hospital studied the case, as usual, but the prosecutor of the rape case alerted judge Inés Siro about the upcoming abortion, and Siro blocked it, based on "personal convictions". The block was appealed, and the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires overruled Siro, but the physicians at the hospital excused themselves saying that the pregnancy was now too advanced. The family of the victim was approached by a non-governmental organization that collected money and paid for the abortion to be performed in a private context, by an undisclosed physician. Judge Siro is now facing impeachment. [cite news |url=http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?hint=2&DR_ID=38897 |title=Argentina Supreme Court Rules Mentally Impaired Rape Survivor Can Undergo Abortion; Case Sparks Abortion-Rights Debate |date=2006-08-03 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation ]
The other case, which came into the public light at about the same time, was that of a 25-year-old rape victim in
Mendoza Provincewith an acute mental and physical disability. The mother of the victim requested and was granted judicial authorization, but as the pre-surgical tests were being performed at the Luis Lagomaggiore Hospital, the abortion was blocked by a judicial request (a kind of injunction) interposed by a Catholic organization. On appeal, the injunction was rejected by the Supreme Court of Mendoza, and the abortion was performed as originally planned. [cite news |title=Otro pedido de aborto para una discapacitada |url=http://www.lanacion.com.ar/832494 |publisher=La Nación |date=2006-08-18 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ]
As a result of both cases, all but two of the provincial Health Ministers issued a joint statement supporting the medical teams and health authorities responsible for the abortions, and expressing their commitment to the law. Minister González García further stated that "there are fanatics that intimidate and threaten" and that "tolerance to fanatical groups must be ended". [cite news |title=Ministros de salud de todo el país apoyaron la práctica del aborto |url=http://www.lanacion.com.ar/834411 |publisher=La Nación |date=2006-08-24 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |language=Spanish ] [cite news |url=http://www.buenosairesherald.com/argentina/note.jsp?idContent=308962 |title=Church defends abortion stance |date=2006-08-27 |accessdate=2006-08-28 |publisher=Buenos Aires Herald ]
23 August 2006the Argentine Episcopal Conferenceissued a document titled "A Question of Life or Death", stating the Church tries to protect life "moved by the deep love of God... [and] the desire of giving value to each of the lives that are conceived", and pleading not to "seed the culture of death in our society." [cite web |url=http://www.cea.org.ar/07-prensa/una_cuesti%F3n_de_vida_o_muerte.htm |title=Una cuestión de vida o muerte |date=2006-08-23 |publisher=Argentine Episcopal Conference |language=Spanish]
* [http://www.rimaweb.com.ar/ "Red Informativa de Mujeres de Argentina"] (Women's Informative Network of Argentina, "RIMA").
* [http://www.catolicasporelderechoadecidir.org/ "Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir"] (Catholic Women for the Right to Decide).
* [http://www.derechoalaborto.org.ar/ "Derecho al Aborto"] (Right to Abortion)
* [http://www.vidahumana.org/ "Vida Humana Internacional"] (Latin American chapter of
Human Life International)
* [http://www.provida.org.ar/ "Pro Vida"]
* [http://www.fundacion25demarzo.com.ar/ "Fundación 25 de Marzo"] (25th of March Foundation).
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