Taboo, amparos and militant support: this is how legal abortion works in Argentina six months after the sanction

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The law is clear: anyone with less than 14 weeks of gestation can request to terminate their pregnancy and must access the practice within ten calendar days. This is how it came out of Congress on December 30th and this is how it was enacted on January 24th of this year. But six months after his sanction, that is not always the reality of those who seek to exercise the right. “The application of the law must be militarized,” he acknowledges. Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity. In the long list of obstacles that the measure has encountered are some thirty judicial measures, mistreatment, lack of confidentiality and even medical resistance. “The law is working across the country and that is a good start, but the law does not change reality from one day to the next, ”insists the minister. The contacts with his portfolio and with Health to request assistance in specific cases are daily.

“We have to take care of the services provided by the practice that in some places are harassed,” says Valeria Isla, National Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health. They recognize the support of militant spaces such as Network lifeguards, a group of 54 online organizations that accompanied women even before the enactment of the law. Present in all provinces, the lifeguards have information on which medical and professional centers are willing to comply with the law and connect women with those spaces. “We meet doctors who ask if the couple has authorized it or if they know what they are going to do to the baby. They are situations of abuse ”, exemplifies Soledad Cañumil from Comodoro Rivadavia. It is part of the network Rabid Rose Relief that has accompanied almost 200 abortions in the south of Chubut and the province of Santa Cruz, only in 2021.

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“The law regulates the objection: it authorizes and recognizes it but sets a limit on it. They cannot ignore referring the pregnant woman ”, Isla brand.“ In small municipalities we find a lot of conscientious objection but that includes bad information and lack of transparency ”, denounces lawyer Mónica Menini, a member of the Campaign for access to Free and Safe Legal Abortion, which continues to work after legalization. “We continue to have a lot of work because the Justice accepts protections that it should not accept.”

Judicial attempts

The court battle was announced even before the law was passed. With the “trial” against Senator Silvia Elías de Pérez, he anticipated that they will resort to justice even before voting in the precinct. Since then, some 30 filings have had mixed fortunes in courts across the country. “Very recently in Salta a man appeared to ask the judge to suspend the possibility that his girlfriend could have an IVE. A young couple, together very little ago. And the judge allowed him, ”says Menini. A few months earlier there had been an identical situation in San Juan. In both cases, the women were finally able to terminate their pregnancies within the legal term and under the law.

“The presentations all say more or less the same: that it is against the constitution and international treaties, but it is not like that and the law is firm,” says Gómez Alcorta. In recent weeks, a federal judge in Mar del Plata had managed to suspend the IVE in national hospitals, but the State appealed the measure and challenged the judge. “It was an anti-rights activist with very virulent demonstrations on social networks,” says Gómez Alcorta.

Step by Step

Estefanía Cioffi is a doctor and part of a group known as the Network of Professionals for the Right to Decide. The misoprostol prescription that he wrote in January from his office in Villa 1 11 14 was the first public – and viral – information of a legal abortion in Argentina. “My role today is to accompany the woman’s decision, no longer to authorize it,” she explains.

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She also works at the Hospital de San Francisco Solano, where each woman is received by an interdisciplinary team: a first interview and ultrasound are done to confirm the time of pregnancy. “If it is within the first 13 weeks, the abortion is ambulatory and the woman can leave with the medication that same day,” he explains. A post-abortion check-up is also done to make sure the procedure has been complete and a contraceptive method is provided. “We have had a lack of some methods, such as the subdermal implant,” says Cioffi. This and the Intrauterine Device are usually the most chosen by women who reach the voluntary interruption of pregnancy as mothers of other children.

But access to abortion is not the same throughout the national territory. “Many times we have to get transfers because the girls do not feel safe asking for an abortion in their town,” says Menini from the militancy. In Comodoro Rivadavia Cañumil recounts similar experiences: women who resort to rescue networks because they want to make sure that they will not be mistreated or because distances within the Patagonian territory complicate their access to health.

Figure under construction

Six months after coming out of hiding there are still no accurate numbers on how many abortions are done in Argentina. The Ministry of Health will say that there have been more than 7,800 consultations to 0800 222 3444, a support line for reproductive health. But not all callers decide to have an abortion, and not all abortions that exist go through this line. We also know that the National State has bought one hundred thousand treatments of misoprostol, the drug used for the procedure, but some provinces buy more on their own. The Ministry of Women embraces a figure: when the law was promulgated in January, the health providers that attended to those seeking an IVE were 900 and today there are almost 1200 throughout the country. The militant networks have their own registry and assure that in 2020 they accompanied 17 thousand abortions through 54 networks of rescuers. This year, they say, the figure is similar. In the health system, on the other hand, the legal status does make a difference: up to a thousand percent in growth, depending on the area.

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“We aspire to have a federal information system by the end of the year. In order to be accountable for this health practice ”, anticipates Islas. The registry will make it possible to study the incidence of the practice in the figures of unwanted pregnancy and in the access to contraception. “From the first interview we are already talking about the contraceptive method that they will be able to choose later,” says Cioffi. In his professional practice in San Francisco Solano and Villa 1 11 14 he recommends long-term methods. “There is a lack of implants,” he acknowledges and calls for campaigns to inform about the options to prevent pregnancy.

“That abortion goes through the health system allows the woman to decide in every way: if her desire is to continue and she is being pressured to interrupt the pregnancy is something that can be detected in the previous interview,” remarks the doctor. Islas also points to the detection of abuse and violence, which had been one of the pillars on which those who asked for legalization relied.

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