ARGENTINA – The law was passed by a vote of 38 to 29 with 1 abstention at 4am on 30 December 2020

You can watch the whole debate as it happened (in Spanish) on the Senate video channel. The video screen showed the debate itself in the left half of the screen and live scenes of the abortion rights movement and the anti-abortion movement outside the Congreso, who were separated by a barrier, throughout.

The debate in the Senate began at 4pm Buenos Aires time on 29 December. The vote was taken at 4am on 30 December. Women senators voted differently from the men; more women than men voted yes, and more younger women. Compared to the Senate at the last vote in 2018, more senators were younger, and more women senators talked about feminism and the experiences of young women.

There was a major international petition and solidarity vigils in the following countries:

  • On 17 December 2020, Amnesty International presented 250,000 signatures they had collected from around the world in support of legalising abortion in Argentina ahead of the Senate vote.
  • The green handkerchief was waved in front of the Argentina embassy in Madrid by the Feminismos Madrid collective, at Argentina’s consulate in Barcelona, and in public squares of Bilbao and Granada, in the Place de la République in Paris by the group Du Pain et des Roses, in Rome at the Colosseum by the Non Una Di Meno movement, and in Brussels.
  • The feminist collective Sororidad Guatemala said on Twitter that they embrace the Argentinian compañeras and said #QueSeaLey to each other in all of Latin America.
  • The Campaña por el Aborto Legal en Colombia said that “today is a good day to make history” and expressed their support for the Argentinian colleagues, as well as the Red de Mujeres Jóvenes and the Viejas Verdes collective who called for “a great handkerchief day all day”.
  • Outside the Argentinian embassy in Quito, a number of Ecuadorian feminist organisations held a “feminist sit-in” in solidarity.
  • In Chile, the 8M Feminist Coordination, which includes diverse social and political feminist groups, joined in an “internationalist vigil for the right to abortion in Argentina” in front of the Argentinian consulate in Santiago. The Chilean collective LASTESIS in Valparaiso said the green wave has been “a precedent and reference for the movement for free abortion in Chile”, since the demand: “Abortion is a fundamental right” is basically the same.

On an AS TV report, culled from throughout the debate, you can find one-paragraph statements from many of the senators, both in support and against, with several videos and visuals worth looking at. It’s all in Spanish but you can right-click and then click on “Translate to English” to read them too.

In the New York Times, Senator Silvia Sapag was quoted as saying, in an emotional speech after the vote: “When I was born, women did not vote, we did not inherit, we could not manage our assets, we could not have bank accounts, we didn’t have credit cards, we couldn’t go to university. When I was born, women were nobody.” Now, she added, for all the women who fought for those legal rights and more, “let it be law.”

The NYTimes also reported: “I’m very emotional for all those who couldn’t be here today,” said Aracelli Orellana, 29, an office worker who had a friend, Marisa Sanchez, who died from a clandestine abortion when she was a high school student.

Announcement of the vote
The vote was announced at around 4am to the crowds outside. You can watch and hear the response to the announcement on Twitter among the many thousands who had been waiting for the result for more than 12 hours. Some 7.1 million have watched the response already. Cry with joy and then read on.

The response to the announcement on Twitter

You can also look through 30 pages of photos on Getty Images.

Dawn of the first day of voluntary termination of pregnancy
This is a question of public health, so said both President Fernández and many women in the street. According to official data, there were some 447,000 illegal abortions per year in the country, while between 2010 and 2017 there were a total of 45,604 hospital admissions for incomplete abortions.

“The path that led to the approval of the law is the result of years of perseverance by feminist groups that have taken on a massive scale, especially in the last two decades. ‘I think we are where we are because there was work by thousands of women who, at different times, began to deconstruct patriarchy,’ said the 91-year-old lawyer Nelly Minyersky, one of the leaders of the movement.”

“After decades of feminist mobilisation and polarised political struggle around this issue, the news of the vote spread rapidly throughout the world, thanks to social networks, where messages of celebration and applause prevailed.”

“This has been a struggle for many years, many women died. Never again will there be a woman killed in a clandestine abortion,” said Vilma Ibarra, the author of the law and legal and technical secretary for the presidency, who wept as she spoke to reporters after the result.

UN Women sent a congratulatory message “to the feminist movement and the Argentine State for this significant achievement”. They also called for recognition of the years of mobilisation for the sexual and reproductive rights “that are now enshrined in law”.

Pedro Sánchez, President of the Spanish Government, applauded the news, saying that “Argentina is today a more feminist nation” and that “advancing rights for women until we reach full equality is essential throughout the world”.

Silvina Ramos, a sociologist who has been a researcher and leader in the movement for reproductive rights since 1983, wrote a lovely commentary called “Dawn of the first day of voluntary termination of pregnancy” in Página 12 on 30 December. She looked back on the activism over all those years – research, lectures, TV appearances, articles in the media, national women’s meetings, marches – memorialising this fight: “Because reproductive autonomy is so essential to our happiness that when we achieve it, the society is a better society.”

Mariana Romero, whose contribution to this success has also been enormous – as a doctor and a trainer, and as an advocate and the director of CEDES – thinks that the coming year will be one in which services can be expanded and training of health teams can be continued, especially in parts of the country where access has been the least – concentrating on provision of misoprostol alone (which was approved by the government in 2019) for medical abortion. Many primary health care physicians have already been trained in providing legal abortions under the former law, and will feel more comfortable now providing services. Online training is likely to expand due to the pandemic. Manual vacuum aspiration abortion is not yet available at primary level; that will need work. Midwives cannot provide abortions or even in some provinces contraception, even under the new law; regulations on this will hopefully be developed. Sensitisation on the new law will be needed, as well as reform to include second trimester abortions.

Legal challenges by anti-abortion groups are expected, but Mariana thinks this will not stop the provision of services from expanding. The women’s movement will monitor implementation, and the Ministry also plan to monitor provision, mostly in public services. The extent of conscientious objection is as yet unknown. What is also unknown is how many women will now come forward for legal abortions.

Senator Norma Durango, who was the first lawmaker to speak during the Senate debate, said legalising abortion would simply bring the practice out of the shadows. “I sit here today representing all the women who have died having clandestine abortions,” said Ms. Durango. “Abortion is a reality and it has been taking place since time immemorial.”

With heartfelt congratulations to all for a stupendous and truly collective action!!

SOURCES: France 24, 17 December 2020 ; Página 12, 29 December 2020 ; DW, 30 December 2020, with photo by Agustin Macarian/Reuters ; Página 12, by Silvina Ramos, 30 December 2020, with photo by Leandro Teysseire; Reuters, by Nicolás Misculin, 30 December 2020 ; El Periodico, 30 December 2020 ; Argentina AS, 29 December 2020 ; New York Times, by Daniel Politi, Ernesto Londoño, 30 December 2020 ; Interview with Mariana Romero, by Marge Berer, 5 December 2020