Each year in Argentina, between 460,000 and 600,000 women chose to undergo clandestine abortions
Between 460,000 and 600,000 women chose to undergo clandestine abortions, almost
one for every child born. This is the Argentina of the Catholic Church, of de Verbo Incarnato, of a male chauvinist society and of narrow mindedness. In a country where abortion
is illegal except for in two extreme cases, women who do not want a child resort
to secrecy, and one in eight end up in hospital due to complications. However,
a draft law has just emerged on the MP’s agenda which could make a difference.
If the ecclesiastical authorities will allow it.
For the first time, it’s not the usual NGOs, who have tried for years and always
been ignored, who have announced an emergency situation, but instead an official
scientific study. It was requested by the National Committee for Sanitary Investigation
Programmes at the Ministry of Health, which spoke to a team of experts who used
two tested methods at an international level.
“It’s an important step forward. Now we have scientifically proven figures, it’s
no longer an unsupported claim”, comments Dr. Zulema Palma, working on the National
Campaign for legal, safe and free abortion, launched by 230 NGOs who developed
this draft law currently open in Parliament.
Methods. It has not been easy to gather information when investigating a clandestine
practice which is punishable by the penal code. “We used indirect methods and
gave in to the demand to reach an exact figure”, explained Silvia Mario from the
Gino Germani Institution, one of the research groups. “However we have used the
best methodology in the world”.
The study was based on two different methods. The first involved analysing hospital
records to count the number of women reduced to admitting themselves to hospital
due to post-abortion complications. Given that these cases represent only a small
number of the total abortions carried out, we move to stage two: an investigation
based on key witnesses, mainly gynaecologists and obstetricians from the public
and private sector in and around Buenos Aires, Rosario, Mendoza, Cordoba, Tucuman
and Resistancia. Humanitarian workers defending women’s rights and district leaders
from the Salud Reproductive Programmes were also involved. They were thus able
to estimate the number of abortions carried out in secret, including those which
do not result in complications requiring hospitalisation. The final result for
this was one in seven. The second method, based on unexplainable statistical methods,
gave results which crossed over to reach an exceptional figure which shocked the
How do they abort?
The investigation established that middle and upper class women nearly always
turned to medical staff who would do it at a huge price. Obviously it’s a very
different story for poor women, reduced to putting themselves in the hands of
inexperienced people or instead trusting ‘DIY’ methods. Ingesting a particular
drug (which one can buy on prescription because it has other therapeutic uses)
or inserting pills directly into the vagina, are the most popular methods. Therefore
it goes without saying that among these girls, the percentage of hospitalisations
Hope for change. The draft law, the result of the awareness campaign pushed forward for years
by many humanitarian and civil society organisations, was presented to the Health
Committee in Parliament by socialist MP Silvia Augsburger and by Juliana Marino
from Frente para la Victoria-Capital. The parliamentary procedure foresees that it will be subject to the Penal Legislation
Committee before being dealt with and discussed by Congress. At the moment MPs
said to be in favour come from Frente para la Victoria, the Radicals and ARI - Alternativa por una Republica de Iguales. The proposal is to guarantee women the right to abort in non-prosecutable cases
and to stipulate the procedure which hospitals must follow when practising abortion.
The final hope for NGOs is that if it becomes a reality cases like that in Santa
Fe, where a 20-year-old girl with cancer died because the law refused her radiation
therapy due to the unborn foetus inside her, can be avoided.
The reaction from the Roman Church.
“The right to kill one’s children does not exist”, thundered the Argentine Episcopal
Conference in a report containing the signatures of its President, Cardinal Jorge
Bergoglio, and Vice Presidents Luis Villalba and Augustin Radrizzani. The bishops
rushed to “defend the Constitution” and called “on each and every citizen to unite
in defending life”. The Episcopate explained, “No right exists in our legislation
which authorises governments and district or city councils to legislate such matters.
There is no administrative or legal act according to which one can be excluded
from judicial control in a case where the right to life is put at risk”. The National
Secretary for the Family declared, “Abortion is always a crime, even if in some
cases it is not prosecutable, it does not stop it from being so”.