Social Issues

Abortion gaining ground in Argentina despite obstacles

By Veronica Dalto

Buenos Aires, Apr 13 (EFE).- Since abortion was legalized nearly three months ago, that medical procedure is gradually becoming more commonplace even in conservative provinces.

Resistance still remains, however, particularly in the form of court challenges brought by pro-life groups.

“The law was a point of arrival,” Valeria Isla, the Health Ministry’s director of sexual and reproductive health, told Efe about recent legislation that received congressional approval late last year, was signed into law by leftist President Alberto Fernandez on Jan. 14 and entered into force 10 days later.

“But it’s also a point of departure … for the construction of public policies” that enable people to opt for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, she said.

Those policies include ensuring regular distribution of drugs for terminating pregnancy, providing support to teams of professionals and social workers, accompanying women when they call the abortion helpline and working at the institutional and political level to fight back against legal challenges.

Argentina is not starting from scratch in this process because abortion has been legal since 1921 in cases of rape or risk to the pregnant woman’s life or health.

Under the terms of the new law, women may voluntary opt for an abortion during the first 14 weeks of their pregnancy.

The Health Ministry has not yet established how many voluntary abortions have been performed to date, although there has been an increase of more than 50 percent in the number of calls to the helpline since the law was enacted.

One factor pointing to a higher number of abortions is the distribution of misoprostol, a drug used as an alternative to surgical abortion as well as to complete a miscarriage or missed abortion when the body does not expel the embryo or fetus on its own.

The Argentine government purchased 90,000 Misoprostol treatments this year, compared with 34,000 in 2020 (of which 18,000 were distributed) and just 2,000 in 2019.

But Isla said three levels of obstacles still remain in the effort to ensure safe and voluntary access to abortion.

“One is at the political and institutional level” because some provinces have a strategy aimed at restricting people’s right to an abortion, she said, adding that the government has a team of lawyers is in place to defend and uphold the law.

A second obstacle is a lack of resources necessary to ensure people’s access to abortion.

Those seeking the voluntary termination of their pregnancy can access the network of providers that were already performing legal abortions prior to January 2021 and which are irregularly distributed among the country’s 23 provinces and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires.

In cases where health providers refuse to perform an abortion for reasons of conscience, the law requires them to guide the patient to another provider. But callers to the helpline complain that some private providers are not complying with that obligation.

Civil society organizations opposed to abortion represent a further obstacle.

“There are provinces with very active militancy. They harass the service providers, harass the users,” Isla said.

In that regard, she praised the commitment shown by Argentina’s network of health professionals and said the government is doing all it can provide them with support. EFE


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