Argentina has announced that it will drop criminal charges against women accused of abortions following the government’s historic decision to legalize the procedure.
The ad offers hope to the mostly poor and marginalized women facing criminal penalties. But persistent problems like obstetric violence and sexism in the justice system show that the fight for reproductive justice is not over, according to activists.
The new law, passed on December 30, allows abortion for any reason during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, making Argentina the largest country in Latin America to widely allow the procedure. It explicitly covers anyone of childbearing potential, including transgender and non-binary people.
It marks a great victory for women’s rights in a region where the Catholic Church has a strong influence.
Women rarely spend years in prison on abortion charges in Argentina, but there have been some horrible exceptions. In the conservative province of Tucumán, Belén (not her real name) spent nearly three years behind bars after suffering a miscarriage before a team led by feminist lawyer Soledad Deza managed to overturn her conviction.
“Those almost three years that I was in prison were a very painful time for me, because it was horrible to be imprisoned for something I had not done,” Belén said in a written statement.
And even when hospitals do not report patients to the police, women seeking abortion treatment sometimes find themselves at the extreme of cruel and degrading treatment.
Analía Ruggero went to a hospital on the outskirts of Buenos Aires at age 22 when she suffered complications from a self-induced abortion using pills. When doctors found out that she had had an abortion, they initially refused to treat her, but also told her that if she went elsewhere, she could get an infection and die. Eventually Ruggero was admitted but, as they worked, the medical staff whispered insults to her. “The nurse was giving me injections and she was saying in a low voice: ‘You had an abortion! You trash, who do you think you come here to? ‘”
Later, Ruggero was left to recover on a bed without sheets or blankets in a corner of the ward that was infested with cockroaches.
Ruggero was delighted with the new law. “Now if the first nurse I come to doesn’t want to do it, there is a line of doctors behind her who are willing to do it,” he said.
It is unclear how many women will have their cases dismissed as a result of the new law. A recent report, from the Argentine human rights group Cels, abortion rights activists and the San Martín University Center, identified 1,532 abortion cases in the last eight years that could be covered. But not all provinces responded to the investigators’ request for information, and other activists say the total is likely substantially higher.
“All those women who have been criminalized … will have the benefit that their cases will be dismissed, because there is a retroactive application of the more favorable criminal law”, said the Argentine minister for women, gender and diversity, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta.
Activists are now demanding an investigation into the problem of women who may have been prosecuted for a more serious crime, such as murder, after an abortion.
The Cels report identified several women serving long prison terms for crimes such as aggravated homicide after experiencing obstetric problems such as stillbirths and miscarriages late in their pregnancies. Most were extremely poor.
María Laura Garrigós, undersecretary for Penitentiary Affairs at Argentina’s Ministry of Justice, said women may be in prison for murder after abortions, especially in the more conservative provinces of northern Argentina, although these cases generally far exceed the limit. of 14 weeks. . “It is a question of interpretation, of when the fetus stops being a fetus,” he said. “Generally, this is the jurisprudence that comes from men,” he said. “Judges in general tend to be men.”
The challenge now will be to ensure that women’s legal right to decide about their bodies is respected in practice. “I know women who have been working on this for 50 years. These structures are not only going to rest, they are going to continue fighting to solve these types of problems, ”said Garrigós. “This is the progress we are making against patriarchy.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism