Laboring for Change
This story is part of a series exploring maternal health and reproductive rights across the world.
Click on the stories below to hear from other women on the front lines of calling for an end to a globalized war on women.
ARGENTINA: 500,000 Reasons to Legalize Abortion
As women’s reproductive rights come under threat in the US, activist and devoted single mom Nasreenamina reminds us that the right to choose is a universal issue with dire consequences for many.
“The real crime is the inequality of our society. The real sin is our indifference towards a health crisis that affects mostly lower class women.”
It was November 1, All Saints' Day. As Buenos Aires woke up slowly to a midweek holiday, I joined women from all corners of the country in a movement of green flags blowing in the wind. We were preparing to march to Congress to support a bill that would legalize abortion.
My fellow activists and I filled three train cars, with more women joining us at each stop. Amidst the chatter of women's voices, the noise of the rails, and the swaying of the train, I thought about the decision I made many years ago.
When I became pregnant as a teenager and my boyfriend abandoned me, my parents asked me what I wanted to do: Have the baby and keep it? Give her up for adoption? Interrupt the pregnancy? They gave me all the options and made sure they were there for me no matter my decision. All of these choices had consequences, but I felt safe knowing that I was not alone.
I decided to keep my baby for two reasons. First, I wanted her with all my heart. Second—and this is essential—I understood that the people around me were willing and able to help. I had the support of my whole family. I had the skills to raise my daughter, continue my studies, and provide a good upbringing for my child. In my situation, the choice not to abort was easy.
I am a single mother with a wonderful daughter. But my situation could have been very different. In fact, for many of the women with me on the train, it was a very different story. What would I have done without my family’s support? This is the question that led me to stand up and march to make abortion legal, safe, and free.
According to the National Campaign for a Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion, 500,000 abortions are performed illegally each year in Argentina. That makes 500,000 reasons to seriously question our level of honesty as a society.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Argentina—in a decision that favors a basic sense of justice—stated that abortion in cases of rape would not be punished. This declaration means that the rape victim, as well the doctor who performs the abortion, cannot be jailed or prosecuted. Notably, this court sentence also states that the decision to abort is personal and between the woman affected and her doctor.
The recent decision to legalize the practice in cases of rape has two beneficial effects: It recognizes the right of women to decide on a pregnancy resulting from the commission of a crime, which is an improvement on women's autonomy over her body. It also sets an important precedent that again opens a national debate about abortion in Argentina.
While this decision is a step forward for Argentina’s women, it remains that access to free, safe, and legal abortions is a must—not only for those women who have been the victims of rape, but also for women who decide that abortion is the right choice for them.
Today, forty percent of all pregnancies in Argentina are interrupted. In most cases the procedure is done in awful, unsanitary conditions. Clearly criminalization does not prevent women from getting abortions. Nearly 80,000 women each year are hospitalized due to post-procedure complications. Botched abortions are the leading cause of maternal death in Argentina, representing 30% of maternal deaths. In many cases, abortion complications and deaths are not reported to authorities. For every woman who seeks medical help due to complications, seven others in the same situation do not seek help.
A Matter of Equity
On the train, Mariana*, a young mother of three boys, turned to me to share her experience.
"I got pregnant with my fourth and my partner just left," she said. "He threw me out of the house. I didn’t work. He didn’t take any responsibility. No woman imagines her life with an abortion. It’s absurd to think women desire abortion. I borrowed money. I took what I had in the bank to pay for it. It hurts me—people’s judgment—because they don’t know anything about me."
It’s estimated that in Argentina an illegal abortion costs around $1,000 US. Who could get $1,000 so easily? Women access different practices according to their financial status. An abortion in an expensive, discreet, and private clinic is different from the dirty room in a marginal suburb that poor women like Mariana are most likely to encounter.
‘Crime’ and ‘sin’ are words used only against the poor women who are most likely to die or go to prison as a result of their decision to end their pregnancies. When abortion is practiced in a fancy place, it is not called a crime and carries no blame. It's called "removal of tissue." Abortion remains illegal for high-income patients, but money changes everything: It pays for safe abortions and also the silence of physicians. It bars some people from sanitary risk, legal judgment, and social punishment.
Denying women decent health care is a lucrative business in Argentina. The 500,000 illegal abortions each year represent a five hundred million dollar industry—money that could instead be used to improve social assistance and motherhood support programs. . . .