Argentina’s voluntary abortion law enters into force

By Veronica Dalto

Buenos Aires, Jan 24 (efe-epa).- Argentina’s newly expanded abortion law enters into force on Sunday, after the 10-day preparatory period since being signed by President Alberto Fernandez.

Now, women will be able to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancies up until the 14th week of gestation without legal penalty.

In addition, in decriminalizing abortion under this condition, voluntarily having an abortion is guaranteed to be free of charge within the public health system, where one-third of Argentines get their healthcare. And after legal abortion is incorporated into the country’s medical procedures, it will also be covered by private medical clinics and by the social work system, Argentina’s two other healthcare systems.

The healthcare infrastructure had already been prepared to guarantee the right to legal abortion, which has been available in Argentina since 1921 in cases of rape or risk to the mother’s life.

“Without doubt, a process of training for (healthcare) professionals will have to be initiated. But it’s important to say that abortion is generally a walk-in procedure that does not require any guidelines or protocol,” Laura Salome, the spokesperson for the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, told EFE.

However, voluntary abortion without any preconditions, other than the fact that it must occur within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, will now be available through all healthcare providers, even in Argentina’s most conservative provinces.

“The law starts a new process within the healthcare system that will take time,” the Buenos Aires director of the health of women, children and teenagers, Sabrina Balaña de Caro, told EFE.

In the public system, the aim of Buenos Aires provincial authorities, within the country’s most populous province, is to broaden the number of professional teams providing abortions at healthcare clinics and in municipal hospitals to make it as widely available as possible.

According to Balaña de Caro, the majority of women seek abortions within the first trimester of their pregnancies, and that procedure can be undertaken easily at walk-in healthcare clinics since it requires nothing more than an ultrasound exam, clinical support, the administration of Misoprostol (the drug that provokes spontaneous abortion) which the woman takes home with her, and a brochure explaining the procedure and advising women to return to a hospital if they experience any of a set of side effects.

For now, Buenos Aires province has approved an abortion guidebook to provide as a support tool to the healthcare teams tasked with providing abortions and so that lack of information cannot be used as an excuse for anyone not to provide the procedure to women requesting it.

Regarding the conscientious objection to providing the procedure by certain healthcare professionals, a situation which is set forth within the law, the Buenos Aires guidelines say that healthcare personnel do not have to agree to provide the procedure but they must refer women to another professional or institution to guarantee that they can receive an abortion within 10 days of requesting one.

Another aim is for the guidelines to be implemented in the private sector, although Balaña de Caro said that part of that sector is already performing abortions for virtually anyone requesting them: “There was a whole portion of the private sector that supported the practice clandestinely” and “since it was the only option (for many women) it cost a lot of money.”

Nevertheless, the supply of Misoprostol available in both the public and private networks “depends on the ability of the pharmaceutical industry” to provide it, a spokesman for the OSDE, Argentina’s healthcare network, said, adding that adding abortion – which almost never used to be covered within the system – to the available free procedures will increase costs throughout the healthcare chain.

None of the healthcare providers, whether public or private, were able or willing to give an estimate as to the number of abortion requests that would now be made with the inception of the new law.

“We understand that at first these laws don’t really increase the number of abortions, but rather simply make them more visible,” said Balaña de Caro.

Last year, Buenos Aires province began keeping a record of abortions, tallying some 8,000 performed from January up until last August.

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