Despite a wave of protests that reportedly saw more than one million women gathered outside of Argentina’s Congress on Wednesday to show support for abortion rights, on Thursday the country’s Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would have legalized the procedure before 14 weeks of pregnancy. Thirty-eight lawmakers voted against the bill, 31 in favor of it, and two abstained after the Catholic Church put heavy pressure on lawmakers in conservative districts to oppose it. But even while Pope Francis, an Argentine native, likened abortion to Nazi-era eugenics in comments calling on politicians to reject the measure, activists and legislators had clung to hope after the lower house of Congress narrowly approved the bill to legalize abortion in June and President Mauricio Macri, a center-right politician who is personally opposed to abortion, pledged that he would sign the law if it passed the Senate.
According to Macri’s health minister, Adolfo Rubinstein, who came forward in favor of legalization, an estimated 354,000 clandestine abortions are performed every year in Argentina — causing thousands of maternal deaths. The once-unlikely push for legalization came following protests over violence against women — known popularly as the “Ni una Menos” movement — which evolved into a larger grassroots movement that saw women donning green handkerchiefs to signal their support for abortion after the horrific murder of a pregnant 14-year-old girl by her teenage boyfriend in 2015. The case of Ana María Acevedo, a 19-year-old mother of three children who was refused cancer treatment because she was two weeks pregnant but was barred from receiving an abortion had also become a rallying cry for activists. Acevedo gave birth to a baby by C-section after six months, but the baby died after just a day. Acevedo died two weeks later.
Legislator Victoria Donda, one of the more high-profile champions of the abortion legalization effort, was the daughter of one of 30,000 people who were kidnapped and “disappeared” by Aregntinian security forces during a dictatorship that lasted between 1976 and 1983. Pregnant women who were “disappeared” were kept alive until they gave birth, after which they were murdered and their children given to military families to raise. Donda, who was raised by one such military family, only learned the identity of her biological parents in 2003.
“Legalization in Argentina would have a profound effect on the rest of Latin America, where it remains banned in all the other major countries,” Donda told The Guardian, noting that abortion is legal in only a handful of jurisdictions in the region. But despite the failure of the measure, she and other activists remained optimistic about the progress they had made.
“Society as a whole has moved forward on this issue,” said Claudia Piñeiro, an Argentine writer and abortion-rights activist. “Church and state are supposed to be separate, but we’re coming to realize that is far from the case. That will be the next battle.”
Below, watch a pair of videos of Argentinian women who came out to support abortion rights and say they are holding out hope that an abortion law will materialize sometime in the near future. One group of mostly young women who were on the scene, in a show of what may be to come, chanted, “Beware, beware chauvinists, beware! All Latin America will be feminist!” The second video explores the divisive issue and the country’s people grappling with what is seen as a polarizing moral dilemma.