Euphoric crowds broke into chants of “down with patriarchy” and “feminists will overcome!” in Buenos Aires last night, as Argentine lawmakers passed a historic vote to legalise abortion in the country.
The groundbreaking move follows months of campaigning by Argentina’s “Green Wave”; a grassroot feminist movement that has used its growing influence to push forward a pro-choice mandate in a region known for its restrictive reproductive rights.
As news came through that senators had voted in favour of the bill yesterday, thousands of women wielding green balloons and banners erupted into cheers in the nation’s capital. The decision overturns a 1921 law criminalising abortion, replacing it with new legislation that allows terminations up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.
“I’m crying. Always standing with women,” wrote one protester on Twitter. “My Argentinian sisters, thank you for your activism and for the fights.”
“My country is now a much better place than yesterday,” declared another woman, as someone else added that “Argentina is bringing back the hope for democratic and feminist change in Latin America”.
Latin America is home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. In most countries in the region, women are only allowed terminations if their lives are at threat and even then, practical access is very difficult.
This draconian approach has had a devastating impact on gender equality and women’s human rights. In El Salvador, women face 30-year jail sentences for miscarrying pregnancies, while in Argentina last year, an 11-year-old girl who had been raped was forced to give birth, after doctors refused to allow her an abortion.
Thousands of similar cases play out daily across the country, as women and girls are obstructed from accessing abortion, in incidents that run the risk of dangerous medical complications – not to mention huge levels of trauma.
Campaigners hope that this latest victory for Argentina’s pro-choice movement will lead to a relaxation of the strict abortion laws in neighbouring Latin America countries. This includes Brazil, where an estimated half a million illegal abortions take place every year, and Paraguay, where a 14-year-old rape victim recently died given birth.
“This is a victory for the women’s movement in Argentina, which has fought for its rights for decades,” says Mariela Belski, Executive Director of Amnesty International Argentina. “Now, people who decide to terminate their pregnancy will have a safe, high-quality service […] Argentina has sent a strong message of hope to our entire continent.”
The victory of Argentina’s Green Wave movement yesterday was celebrated by pro-choice activists around the world, including in Poland, whose government was recently forced to delay a motion to outlaw abortion after mass protests.
Campaigners in Northern Ireland also welcomed the move. Abortion was decriminalised in the country last year. But despite the change in law, the Northern Irish health department is still refusing to take charge of abortion services – proving that there is never room to be complacent in the fight for reproductive rights.
Today is a huge and important victory for Argentine women, and women everywhere. We can take hope from the triumph, but – as the struggles taking place in the United States right now show – the battle is far from over yet.