How women got free abortion on demand in Argentina

Mothers brought their children to the gatherings. Here, a girl shows off her wings which read “Legal Abortion Now”. PHOTO: Cecilia Nowell

Paula Carbajal is a member of the Partido Socialismo y Libertad (PSL) and Mujeres por La Libertad in Argentina. PSL is a member organization of the Committee for the International Revolutionary Grouping (CRIR). Carbajal is a women’s rights activist and founding caucus member of the teachers’ union, “La Colorada”, in the province of Neuquén in Patagonia. She wrote the following comments for discussion following a screening by the New York chapter of the Socialist Freedom Party of the 2019 documentary about the fight for abortion rights in Argentina, “Let It Be Law “. A trailer for the film is available at www.imdb.com/title/tt10208192.


There is a story behind the legalization of abortion in 2021 in Argentina. The most recent chapter began when the basic annual meeting Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Assembly of Women) launched in 2003 the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Argentina. Meet has mobilized thousands of activists since 1986, three years after the end of the genocidal 7-year military dictatorship.

In the 15 years since the Meet vote, women lobbied the national legislature for legalization. But it was never even debated, despite the fact that both houses of Congress were controlled by the Peronist Justicialista Party during the presidencies of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. (The Justicialista Party is a liberal capitalist formation similar to the American Democratic Party.)

When center-right neoliberal President Mauricio Macri was elected in 2018, he supported debate on such a bill in Congress. It was a ploy, to create a smokescreen distracting attention from his government’s concessions to the International Monetary Fund, which demanded huge interest payments on Argentina’s debt. President Macri and the political-religious alliance that ruled the country never imagined that the bill would reach the Senate for approval.

All establishment politicians underestimated the ensuing rebellion, led by working class, poor and young women. They never imagined how immense the outpouring of support would be from workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and universities.

Rocking the corridors of power. Millions of women took to the streets to claim their right to decide and defend their lives. The movement became known as olive green (green wave), named after the green bandanas that have become its symbol. It has shaken the foundations of the power structure that maintains the capitalist order in Argentina.

The olive green sparked debate and division across all parties. This fundamentally changed the conditions. The mobilizations exposed the irrational, anti-democratic and misogynistic ideology of every institution and organization hostile to women.

The forces that refused to recognize women’s rights to control their own bodies never considered that the battle would generate the wave of international solidarity that swept across Latin America. They underestimated the movement’s power to trigger successful campaigns elsewhere.

As the documentary “Let It Be Law” shows, finally in 2019, with more than 500,000 women surrounding congress and millions holding vigils in town squares across the country, abortion law has was defeated in the Senate by just seven votes. This is where the movie ends.

Second mass mobilization. But the fight did not stop there. The new generation of activists joined their mothers and grandmothers in pushing the battle forward. Attempts by the Macri government and reactionary sectors to dismantle the protests and defuse the enormous social pressure have failed.

This is why the Peronist government of President Alberto Fernández was forced in 2020 to keep a campaign promise and support a new congressional debate on the legalization of abortion. In the midst of a pandemic, Argentine women have proven once again that no rights can be won without struggle. Masses took to the streets. This time the bill was passed and on January 14, 2021, President Fernández signed the law for safe, legal and free abortion in Argentina.

However, we know we must remain vigilant, especially given the backlash against women in the United States, that the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade represented. We know that reactionary forces in Argentina are hiding, waiting for the opportune moment to strike and undo the gains we have just won.

We know that only by relentlessly fighting to defeat patriarchy and capitalism can we end all oppression and exploitation and achieve permanent freedom and equality.

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