While the United States has recently been in the midst of heated debates regarding beliefs around contraception and women’s health, a similar political and social storm has been stirring in Argentina around the issue of abortion. In a country with over 90% of its nationals identifying as Catholic, Argentina has a complicated history regarding women’s health issues. However, this month Argentina’s Supreme Court clarified its contested 1921 penal code on abortion stating that women who have been raped are allowed to get an abortion.Previously, the law’s statement that women who were raped were only allowed to get an abortion if they were of a “feeble mind” was often interpreted as a right only given to women with severe mental disabilities. The Court stated that from now on, any women who self declares that she was raped can undergo an abortion legally. Furthermore, the Court announced that physicians are not required to seek judicial approval before performing abortions in the case of rape. A women’s declaration of the incident is sufficient reason to permit the procedure.
The Court’s statements may have been a step in the right direction, but they did not legalize abortion. Instead, they simply explained the ninety year-old law in more detail, and ensured the rights of any woman who is raped. However, more action needs to be taken to protect the health of women in Argentina. The country has approximately 500,000 illegal abortions each year, many of which result in high rate of complications. Illegal abortions are more likely to be performed in unsanitary conditions, posing a danger to the mother (and the child, if the procedure is unsuccessful.) Complications from illegal abortions are a major contributor to the high maternal mortality rate in the country. Thus, with such large numbers of women seeking illegal abortions every year despite the potential risks, the criminalization of abortion is not uniformly effective in the country. Argentina needs to reevaluate its approach to women’s health in regards to abortion and contraception because its current approach is clearly not working.
Unfortunately, the country faces major social and religious barriers to women’s health. The overwhelmingly Catholic nation has a strong religious bias against abortion. Contraception has also faced religious opposition, despite the fact that it was legalized in 1985, because many citizens still believe contraception goes against their beliefs. Therefore, Argentina needs to take a stronger stance on women’s rights in order to decrease the number of illegal abortions, associated high maternal mortality rate, and the negative views against contraception. The Ministry of Health needs to work on providing women more opportunities to protect their bodies during the vulnerable reproductive years of a woman’s life. Argentina can maintain a strong religious foundation while still providing a place for women to seek a safe and unbiased place for health care. The Supreme Court should legalize abortion to represent its commitment to protecting women and leave the decision of whether or not to get an abortion to individuals. Additionally, the Ministry of Health needs to invest in educating the public on the potential health benefits of contraception for mothers and their children. While it may be difficult to change religious and moral views toward the issue, the Ministry needs to increase awareness and education about contraception. They have to be leaders in the separation of religion and health by supporting the pro-contraception side of this issue and highlighting abortion and contraception’s potential to control population, keep women healthy, and support women’s rights. While taking a stronger legal and political stance on these issues will likely be controversial, Argentina’s government has a responsibility to protect its citizens.
BBC News. (2012). Argentine court decriminalizes abortion in rape cases. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17360739
CNN Wire Staff. (2012). Argentine court allows abortions in rape cases. Retrieved from: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/14/world/americas/argentina-abortions/?hpt=hp_t2
Human Rights Watch. (2010). Argentina: Guarantee Women’s Access to Health Care. Retrieved from: http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/08/10/argentina-guarantee-women-s-access-health-care
Valente, M. (2012). Argentine Women Refused Legal Abortions in Cases of Rape. Retrieved from: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106941