Argentina’s historic decision to legalize abortion will help spur reform across Latin America, the country’s gender minister has told the Guardian, as a new law allowing the practice goes into effect.
The bill passed by congress on 30 December made Argentina the first major Latin American country to legalize abortion. It will be signed into law on Thursday evening by the president, Alberto Fernández, marking a turning point for a region where the Catholic church has been a major cultural and political influence for centuries.
“We know there will be a lot of resistance in the rest of Latin America, especially from the Catholic church and other churches,” said the gender minister, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, in a Zoom interview.
“The regional conquest will take some time, but I have been getting calls from officials in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Progressive governments are returning to power in some countries, I am very confident there will be a change.”
Gómez Alcorta wore a green wristband in reference to the green scarf adopted as a symbol of Argentina’s women’s movement. “The legalization of abortion in Argentina will have an effect across the whole region,” Gómez Alcorta said. “We will paint Latin America green”
Elective abortions are currently legal only in Uruguay, Guyana, Mexico City and the Mexican state of Oaxaca. But pro-choice activists have become increasingly outspoken and there are signs that attitudes are starting to shift.
A recent poll in Mexico showed that support for access to abortion rose dramatically in 2020, from 29% in March to 48% in November.
Argentina’s government has pledged to ensure that criminal charges are dropped and judicial sentences suspended for more than 1,500 women and doctors accused of violating the ban.
“We have reports of 1,530 people who have either been sentenced or charged and we will be working to make sure those sentences are commuted and those charges are dropped,” Gómez Alcorta said. The actual number of women who have had to face the law over clandestine abortions is probably far higher, she said, as data has only been provided for 15 of the country’s 24 provinces.
The new law is likely to face legal challenges but the minister said she was confident that the country’s supreme court would uphold it.
Plans are also being put in place to overcome other kinds of resistance. “We know there will be resistance in the more conservative provinces where they might try to restrict access, so we are going to work to make sure that women are informed of where they can go to get an abortion.”
The ministry will also ensure legal abortion is available free of charge at clinics nationwide, as the law stipulates. “There is certain to be resistance from private medical insurance plans against providing interventions free of charge, so we will be keeping an eye on that as well.”