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This is an important historical moment. The eyes and hearts of millions of Argentine and Latin American women will be set on this 8 August in the Argentine Senate, where the Law on the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy will be debated, already with half a sanction in the Chamber of Deputies.
A tide of women of all ages is preparing to take to the streets to watch over their right to decide, dressed in the mythical green scarf that is already flying like a flag throughout Latin America.
A large number of arguments were put forward in the debate that took place during the previous sessions and those planned for the parliamentary treatment of the Law. The controversy – and since it had not happened at any time during the macrist administration of the executive – transformed the parliament into a true forum and became an extensive sample of a real democratic discussion, with the participation of social organizations and references, academics, activists, from different angles and positions of society.
A debate that managed to unite political opponents, an unexpected aspect for a government that made room for the installation of the issue to distract and aimed to divide potential allies to avoid a strong opposition to its anti-social program.
The government’s strategy was aimed at driving a wedge between opposition groups with Catholic roots, particularly in Peronism. The shot by elevation was also directed against the grassroots social movements that the Roman church is supporting in order to reestablish itself in the popular sectors and thus regain, at least in part, an influence that was once absolute, but is now partially displaced by the Pentecostal legions in many peripheries of the region.
At the same time, feminist activism – which had long claimed that neither conservative spaces, nor progressives, nor even revolutionaries, put the issue on the political agenda – took advantage of the space and the clamor spread. It won the schools, the homes, the public square.
To take the issue of abortion out of its forced concealment, to socialise its daily reality, to unveil it as a social problem, to highlight the inequality it exposes, all of which was in itself a first great victory.
And in the face of the weakening of a centuries-old patriarchy, a determined feminist tide incarnated in a majority of the younger generation and generated sufficient pressure. This opened the door to the imminent possibility of passing a law guaranteeing all women who decide to terminate an unwanted pregnancy adequate medical protection, State support and the corresponding equity provided by free and legal abortion.
The definitive sanction of the Law in Argentina – whose pioneering approval in the region corresponds to Uruguay – would unleash a domino effect of unstoppable proportions in Latin America, massifying the demand, placing the issue among the priorities and putting the governments of all the political signs in check.
It is likely that everything has already been said in the countless discussions that have taken place. But in circumstances as relevant as this one, history demands that we do not remain silent and establish a position, leaving aside any pretense of originality or exegesis.
Social inequality – teenage pregnancy – social inequality: a disastrous cycle
Unwanted pregnancy is a primary driver among the causes of poverty, gender inequality and deprivation of choice for millions of adolescents and girls.
According to updated figures, only 52 per cent of married and non-married women in the world are free to make their own decisions about sex, contraceptive use and health care.
On the other hand, unwanted pregnancies occur much more frequently in contexts of impoverishment and segregation. The data is compelling: In Argentina, for example, according to a note from the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), nine out of ten mothers aged 15 to 19 belong to 30% of low-income households.
The same note states that “15% of babies born each year have a teenage mother under 20” and that “67% of these pregnancies are unintended or unplanned”. In most cases, early childbearing goes hand in hand with dropping out of school: the article states that “30% of women aged 15 to 29 who dropped out of secondary school did so because of pregnancy or childbearing”. This reduces the possibilities for vocational training and closes the circle of poverty, economic dependence and inequality.
This is the real picture of one of the main sources of reproduction of misery and violation of equal opportunities throughout Latin America and the world. The legalization of the voluntary termination of unwanted pregnancies is an important contribution to the struggle to overcome the exclusion and postponement of women.
Prohibition kills, guilt asphyxiates.
We will say nothing new confirming that many deaths could be avoided by providing a legal framework for abortion procedures that, when performed clandestinely, only guarantee a high degree of risk for women. This is again the case in the poorest strata, in the urban peripheries and in rural areas.
The criminalisation of a significant number of women in a compromised situation is in itself unacceptable. All the more so if the same fact, in most parts of the world, is legally guaranteed.
On the other hand, the ban does not stop or minimise the number of abortions. It simply hides them, exiles them, complicates them.
But there is perhaps a weapon as deadly or more lethal than that which is introduced into the pro-life argument, an invisible substance that poisons the inside. Which is infinitely more painful, which also kills, but more slowly. It’s the guilt induced. It is the accusation of murder inoculated by an accusatory and certainly hypocritical morality, judging by the actions of many of those who defend and enact it.
Guilt weakens, frightens and justifies punishment. In short, guilt is a control mechanism. An instrument for maintaining submission. That is why blame is promoted by those who hold a power conquered by impositions and do not want to lose it. It’s time to end the torment of guilt. It is the real killer and so are its accomplices, that multiply it.
The law that allows abortion, as a democratically sanctioned norm, as a canon of accepted social morality, as a possibility to choose one’s actions with greater freedom, is a contribution to liberation from guilt and, therefore, to gaining inner strength and happiness, which is undoubtedly the objective of any evolutionary social construction.
The perennial struggle between the human and the natural
In the background, the struggle over the issue of the voluntary interruption of a “natural event” is between the defenders of a natural, given, divine and unshakable right and those who bet on human development based on the intentionality present in their conscience and expressed in their actions. Between an imposed destiny and a future built from an inner impulse. Between a slave spirit and a creative redemption.
It is right to recognize that the human being is – paradoxically “by their very nature” – a transgressor, a transformer, a discontent and a rebel against the conditions imposed by nature itself. In its non-mechanical response to any event, lies their ability to choose and change the given.
It is the eternal struggle between immobility and transforming intention, the latter sooner or later invincible.
Historical progression of rights
Seeing this in historical perspective clarifies the picture. If one observes the historical progression in the conquest of rights, it is evident that the advancement of women’s rights is unstoppable.
There was a very long time in which women were only an instrument of procreation, a mere appendage of the masculine will, which decided in an omnimodal way about the life of every woman around them. A time when there was no divorce, or when it required the male will to realise itself. A time when women couldn’t love whoever they wanted.
It was necessary to fight with determination so that women had the right to vote, to be registered as landowners, to study or to exercise certain professions. To be received in all areas with deference, respect and equality of conditions. Many obstacles were removed – albeit still partially – to more and more women taking up decisive positions in the political, trade union and business spheres.
While much of this blatant discrimination is being left behind, it is important to remember what happened. Not only to prepare oneself resolutely to make amends for such an injustice, but also to avoid unnecessarily standing in the way of the transformations that will undoubtedly take place. Moreover, looking at the big picture encourages us to become the protagonist of these changes. The women who today push for the advancement of rights are historical heroines, as were, without a doubt, their thousands of predecessors.
Let it be Law! Because that is what the advance of rights and, in short, history requires.
Translated from Spanish by Pressenza London