Before writing what I have in mind, I would like to have my own “disclaimer” and “for the record” moments. I will not pretend that I do not have a take on this issue. This piece does not come from an objective perspective and I will not try to fool you into thinking otherwise. I support the pro-choice movement. In a country, such as Argentina, where an unwanted pregnancy, unless it is the a result of rape or endangers the mother’s life, forces women to choose between jail, death due to insalubrious clandestine procedures, or a lifetime of psychotherapy to handle the trauma, as the Vice-President has suggested, the logical decision would be to legalize abortions. Having said that, we could have been smarter in how we discuss the issue on a daily basis.
It is not often that Argentina makes international news. Even less often it is when it makes news that bring hope of a new future. This summer, Argentina was in the spotlight because of a nation-wide discussion about abortion that started with the #NiUnaMenos (#Not one Woman Less) movement, which constantly fights for the rights of women across the country. Not surprisingly, the emergence of a strong in-favor side caused a similar but opposite force to rise. As always, each group had their own colors and slogans to bare. Green vs. blue. “Free, safe, legalized abortion” vs. “saving both lives”. Not long after the annual feminist demonstration, which had as a theme the request for safe abortion mechanisms, some delegates in the House of Representatives drafted a motion that would legalize the interruption of a pregnancy up until the 14th week, regardless of the conditions that led to it. In addition, the bill promised the availability of the necessary equipment and medical staff in every hospital, private or public, offering obstetric and gynecological care in the nation. Since public healthcare is free in Argentina, this bill would “guarantee” the existence of this option, regardless of the patient’s economic situation. In an attempt to control the amount of interrupted pregnancies in the long-term, the executive branch would have to create nation-wide programs to educate the population on how to obtain and properly use contraceptive methods. The bill took several topics around the issue of abortion into account, which supports why several representatives were in favor of it.
To read the full motion (in Spanish), visit here.
How did people respond to the movement? I am happy to say that during the weeks leading up to the discussion in the House of Representatives, I was proud of how the conversation unfolded. And I was mainly proud to say that it happened in my country. Not only were people civilized, in general, but the debates were somewhat holistic, focusing on the multiple aspects of such a measure. There are many instances that I can refer to, but the one that stood out the most in the news, and for myself, was the night of the massive demonstrations on June 12, 2018.
In the evening of June 12th, both sides presented themselves in front of the Congress to protest in favor of their side: The Campaña por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito (Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion) with their green scarfs and banners, and the Unidad Provida (Pro-life Union) with their blue equivalents. The city’s security force organized the block in a way that both movements could be present without colliding and risking violent encounters. I will never forget the satisfaction I felt from reading about the overall mature and civilized manner in which that night unfolded. I was even more joyful after finding out that most of the attendees in the green side were young high schoolers and college students.
On June 15th, the motion passed, with a highly divided chamber, and was sent to the Senate for approval. Sadly, however, on August 10th the Senate rejected the project on a 38v31 house, leaving the women outside crying in anticipation of the lives that will be lost until the legislators open their eyes to the reality in front of us.
With the risk of upsetting many reading this, I would like to present one of the ways in which, I believe, the pro-choice movement failed, in the last weeks, to present itself in the most compelling way. This might not be nice to the ear of those of us that supported the pro-choice campaign, but we have to admit our responsibility in this issue, myself included. Leading up to the night that would leave so many people disappointed, we were presented with circumstances that enraged us. The media showed us stories of religious leaders claiming that legalizing abortion would bring us back to the traumatic years under military control, a protest for the other side including Neo-Nazis and physical assaults against green protesters. At the same time, we saw in our twitter and instagram accounts how others made misogynistic comments, claiming that women should not have the right to choose over their own bodies. Of course we were shocked, angry and surprised that that was happening in our country. And of course we went to our social media to show our outrage.
The problem? On social media, I believe Argentinians focused on the wrong issues. By discussing only the opposite extremists, we lost sight of the arguments that were powering the movement. On the last weeks prior to the vote, the debate in social media centered around feminism vs misogyny. We kept claiming that being against abortion meant being misogynist, un machista. The problem with taking this perspective alone is that it reduced and oversimplified the debate to one axis of discussion that does not entirely represent the reality. Being pro-life does not necessarily mean that you hate women and that you do not believe that we deserve equal rights. Being on that side means that the moral scale presents itself differently to you. It means that you do not take preventing an innocent life to be born lightly. This is a view, that despite being against our own, deserves respect and fair representation of what it is. This is not to say that there is no misogyny in the movement, because that would also be a misrepresentation of reality. Some pro-life supporters are stuck in the Old Ages when women had no worth at all. But since this is not the case in all their supporters, we should not treat it that way.
Argentinian citizens should have kept in mind the multiplicity of the arguments that we had in our favor. We should have stopped reducing the social issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice to a simple axis and kept in mind that this than a feminist movement; this is also a healthcare concern. The pro-choice side fights for the rights of women to choose and be respected, yes, but it also pushes for a better healthcare system, the provision of equal opportunities for those who cannot afford a safe, clandestine abortion, and improvement of the education system that should prevent us against some of the circumstances that lead to an unwanted pregnancy.
Moving forward, let’s keep that in mind. The pro-campaign has several cards to play and needs to play them correctly if we want to see a change in our country. Let us make sure that anyone that hears our voices knows exactly what we are fighting for and every side of it.
I would suggest to take campaigning and outreach efforts to the next level and use our rights as supportive voters to force Congress to pass a bill expanding access. If we truly believe that the majority of the population believes in the right to choose, we can democratize the issue and call for a binding referendum.
It worked in Ireland. It can work back home in Argentina.