The struggle to secure access to abortion in Argentina goes on

The Argentinian government must continue to dismantle barriers women face in accessing safe abortion.

Demonstrators in favour of legalizing abortion react after the senate passed an abortion bill,
Demonstrators in favour of legalising abortion react after the Senate passed an abortion bill, in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 30, 2020 [File: Reuters/Agustin Marcarian]

In recent months, Argentinians have had access to legal abortion for the first time. In December, Argentina became the fourth in Latin America to legalise abortion after the National Congress passed the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Law

Securing this right for women and pregnant persons was a milestone achievement and the culmination of decades of struggle, setbacks and progress. Now, new challenges emerge: the effective implementation of the law across a vast and unequal territory and the legal battles filed by conservative groups in the nation’s courts.

Amnesty International is currently monitoring the enforcement of the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Law. We have examined at least 33 lawsuits that challenged the law, 20 of which have already been dismissed – at least three of these dismissals are final.

So far, none of the suits filed against the Argentine state claiming that the law is unconstitutional has been successful. Despite some judges being willing to put their religious or personal interests before the rights of women and pregnant persons, in general terms, the judiciary has shown itself to be a guarantor of human rights and, hopefully, it will continue to resist the attacks that attempt to overturn a law approved by a vast majority of Argentina’s Congress.

An additional challenge faced by citizens who want to access this service is that Argentina is a federal state in which each of the 24 jurisdictional authorities is free to determine their own health policies. There are also wide economic and social inequality gaps between the provinces, varying levels of ecclesiastical influence and marked ideological differences between federal governments. These factors all impact the effectiveness of the implementation of the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy law.

In many rural areas, sexual and reproductive health services and trained staff are still unavailable. The province of Catamarca, for example, is home to more than 124,000 women and people of childbearing capacity, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, but, in a response to a freedom of information request by Amnesty International Argentina, the Ministry of Health in Catamarca revealed the region only has two healthcare centres that guarantee access to services for the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.

The province of Buenos Aires, home to 40 percent of the national population, has made significant progress, yet 36 of its 135 districts still do not offer this service. As this is a national law, anyone should be able to get an abortion no later than 10 days after they request it, irrespective of their place of residence. Delays or obstructions represent a violation to their rights.

Access to information is also key to making free decisions. The government has still not organised massive information campaigns to help people know their rights and the options available to them when deciding to terminate a pregnancy.

It is also necessary to have quality nationwide statistical data to have diagnostic tools in connection with the progress and the challenges in the implementation of the law at a federal level. It is also essential to guarantee that students have access to comprehensive sex education, a policy that is experiencing some obstructions in certain jurisdictions.

Abortion access procedures have presented some issues that need to be overcome. The authorities must approve the production and sale of mifepristone, a drug recommended by the World Health Organization, which has been on the list of essential medicines since 2005. This drug, combined with misoprostol, boosts the efficacy of pregnancy terminations and speeds up the process.

Likewise, it is essential to improve the accessibility to interventions using manual vacuum aspiration (MVA), since almost all provinces continue to perform curettage, a less safe method that should be reserved only for those cases where other options are not available.

The women’s rights movement has a lot to celebrate. Argentina has brought abortions out of clandestine settings thanks to activism, research and vital public debates. This same path continues to inspire activists across the region, who also seek sexual and reproductive autonomy. The green wave keeps spreading across Latin America and will surely bring new victories in the recognition of women’s rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.