With incoming Argentine president, abortion rights could expand

By Anastasia Moloney, Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Nov 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Elective abortion has a good chance of becoming legal in Argentina, supporters said on Monday, as a new centre-left president is about to take office and feminist and abortion rights movements are growing in the South American country.

President-elect Alberto Fernandez has announced plans to propose a law decriminalising abortion once he takes office on Dec. 10, saying reproductive rights are a public health issue.

Abortion in Argentina is allowed only when pregnancy is the result of rape or when a mother's health is at risk.

The largely Catholic region of Latin America and the Caribbean has some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, with a handful of countries, mostly in Central America, banning abortion under any circumstance.

Previous attempts to legalize abortion in Argentina have narrowly failed, mostly due to opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and conservative lawmakers.

This time, the makeup of the country's legislature, where the incoming government will have a majority in the lower house, is more favorable toward expanding abortion rights, according to Argentine women's rights activist Celia de Bono.

Just seven lawmakers who have abstained or opposed such a measure must switch their votes to get a new bill approved, she said.

"With the new make-up (of parliament), there are greater possibilities," de Bono, head of CLADEM in Argentina, an international network of women's rights groups, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In 2018, Argentina's senate voted 38-31 against a bill that would have allowed women and girls to seek an abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

In an interview with the newspaper Pagina/12 on Sunday, incoming president Fernandez called himself "an activist for putting an end to the criminalisation of abortion."

"There's going to be a bill sent by the president," he said.

The rise of the sweeping Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement, Argentina's answer to the #MeToo movement, has helped the pro-choice effort, organizers said.

In the past year, thousands of pro-choice activists have protested in the streets holding green handkerchiefs to symbolize the abortion rights movement.

"The political and social climate is much more favorable to reform," said Barbara Jimenez, Americas regional coordinator at Equality Now, a global women's rights group.

"While it is still an uphill battle, we are optimistic that the women's movement in Argentina has the stamina and willpower to see this fight through to the end," she said.

If the nation were to legalize abortion, it could have a "domino effect" in other Latin American countries that closely watch Argentine politics and policies, Jimenez said.

If the law passed, Argentina - with a population of 45 million - would become the first major country in Latin America to allow abortion on broad grounds.

Only Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana have legalized abortion in Latin America, according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

In September, Mexico's Oaxaca state made it legal to terminate a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks, following the example of Mexico City set in 2007. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)