By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- After banning it for almost a century, Argentina on Thursday began a new chapter in its history by promulgating a law to allow women to legally interrupt pregnancy under a wide variety of circumstances, thus bringing to fruition a campaign that began years ago.
At a brief ceremony loaded with emotion, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez signed Law No. 27,610 to applause and cheers from feminists who came to the Casa Rosada to witness the historic event.
With the slogan “It’s law” showing behind him, Fernandez emphasized that today is “a day of happiness for everyone,” since the law allows the creation of a society that is “a little more egalitarian and a little fairer.”
“Believe me that I’m very happy to be able to put an end to the patriarchy, a great injustice that has prevailed in humanity for centuries. It’s a big step we’re taking, making women equal in their rights with men, and giving women the chance to decide,” the president said.
The promulgation of the law is the last step in implementing it, after on Dec. 30 the Argentine Senate approved it by a vote of 38-29, with one abstention, a vote that was not as close as had been anticipated.
On Friday, the law will be published in the Official Bulletin and then it will become the law of the land in eight days.
The law, which was pushed by the government, will allow pregnancies to be legally, voluntarily and safely interrupted free of charge up to the 14th week of gestation.
In situations beyond the 14-week mark, abortion will only be permitted under two already-existing circumstances that have prevailed since the approval of the 1921 Penal Code: when the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape.
“We’re expanding the ability to decide, which is not a little thing. It’s striking that in the 21st century we’re arguing about these things … Nobody can feel at peace with themselves living in a society without equality, and the primary equality is that we’re all human beings and nobody is worth more than anyone else because of their sex,” the president said.
Putting an end to clandestine abortions, which each year have resulted in dozens of women dying in Argentina, was one of the main objectives of the law, as attorney Vilma Ibarra, Argentina’s legal and technical secretary, noted in her speech at the ceremony.
“(There was) a very serious public health problem in Argentina, which (was) clandestine abortion. With it, women have seen their health affected, … have seen themselves humiliated and today we’re fixing this,” said Ibarra, who was visibly emotional in delivering her remarks.
For the feminist groups who for years have clamored for voluntary abortion, today is the beginning of “a new phase” during which they will closely monitor compliance with the law.
“We’re very happy and satisfied with the work accomplished. Today, a new phase begins for the campaign after 15 years of having organized ourselves to achieve (this) law,” Jenny Rueda, the spokesperson for the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, told EFE in a telephone conversation.
The Health Ministry will be tasked with implementing the law by supplying Misoprostol – a medication that causes spontaneous abortion – within the public health system, as well as incorporating the provisions of the law into the obligatory medical program of private medical associations and the social aid system, the other two big healthcare systems in Argentina.
However, there are Argentine provinces where buying Misoprostol is prohibited, and – in fact – lawmakers in certain regions have already undertaken legal action to declare the law to be “unconstitutional,” and these efforts may go to the Supreme Court, which will have the final word in the matter.
Nevertheless, legalizing voluntary abortion now makes Argentina one of the reference points in Latin America in terms of social advances, joining measures such as equalizing both partners in marriage in 2010 and the gender identity law of 2012.
Only Cuba, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Guyana and Mexico City, as well as the Mexican state of Oaxaca, allow voluntary interruption of pregnancy, a small group now joined by Argentina.
“I have kept my word,” said Fernandez. “Today, we have a better society, … a more equal society. Today, we begin to write another story, that of seeking more rights where inequalities still exist. The battle for equality did not end here.”