The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 37           October 27, 2003  
Argentine marchers: ‘Legalize abortion!’
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Thousands of women marched in major cities of Argentina on September 26 to demand the decriminalization of abortion. Some 8,000 people marched in Buenos Aires, the capital. Thousands more rallied in Mendoza, Córdoba, La Plata, Neuquén, San Salvador de Jujuy, and Rosario.

The mobilizations were organized as part of the annual commemoration of the Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The call for the nationally coordinated actions in Argentina was issued a month earlier, at the 18th National Gathering of Women, held August 16-18 in the city of Rosario, which drew 9,000 women.

The Buenos Aires demonstration was sponsored by 140 organizations. These included women’s rights groups, as in past abortion rights actions. Among the sponsors, however, were also organizations of unemployed and retired workers that have been active in the past two years in the working-class protests against the effects of the economic crisis. Women have played a prominent role in these actions.

The demonstrators marched from the Congress to the government house at the Plaza de Mayo, where a delegation from the retired workers organization MIJD and women’s rights groups met with representatives of the presidential cabinet to turn in a petition with several demands. These included the decriminalization of abortion and free abortion services at public hospitals and clinics; free, unrestricted distribution of condoms and contraceptives; and mandatory sex education in public schools.

The march drew people from all walks of life, from professionals to working-class women and students. “I am for legalizing abortion because it’s the poor who die. I’ve seen many women die,” one demonstrator, a 90-year-old woman, told the Buenos Aires daily Clarín.

Carina Fernández, from the working-class neighborhood of Villa España, told another Buenos Aires daily, Página 12, “We are here not only because we are against the prohibition on abortion, but because in the clinics in our neighborhood they sell you the pills for two pesos. People are going hungry—you tell me how are they going to afford the pills?”

Fernández was with her neighbor Norma Romero, who has five children. Romero, 40, cannot take birth control pills for medical reasons. “I am a mother. It’s not that I’m in favor of abortion, but I am in favor of contraceptives,” she said.

As they marched to the Plaza de Mayo, the marchers chanted “Contraceptives so we won’t have an abortion, Legal abortion so we won’t die.”

Inés Miño, a kindergarten teacher, said, “The rich have plenty of ways to get access to abortion. But the poor don’t—they’ll go to a butcher, or take some kind of weed, or end up going to a quack doctor.”  
Conference and march in Rosario
In a phone interview with the Militant, Zulema Palma from the organization Women of the West, based in Buenos Aires province, said the August conference in Rosario had been the largest since these gatherings began in 1986. “Those participating included feminists, piqueteras, employed workers, and others, and they put their stamp on the conference.” Piqueteras refers to unemployed workers who organize road blockades and other protests to demand jobs. Among those participating were workers who had been involved in the occupation of the Brukman garment plant in Buenos Aires, a focal point of labor resistance.

The conference included workshops on abortion, neighborhood organizations, unemployment, and domestic violence.

A few women opposed to abortion rights, who identified themselves as Catholics, attended the conference and argued in favor of the current laws barring abortion. One of these, Inés Italiani, argued in a workshop that “women who have an abortion suffer terrible psychological effects.”

Another participant, Mariel Páez, answered the self-described Catholics saying, “I used to be a leader of Catholic Action, and I can say that many women who are practicing Catholics also have abortions. I’m tired of the hypocrisy—those who don’t want an abortion simply shouldn’t have one.”

On August 17 some 10,000 women—conference participants and others—marched through downtown Rosario. They wore green headscarves with the slogan, “For the right to choose—decriminalize abortion.”

A much smaller antiabortion group tried to counter the pro-choice mobilization, passing out scarves reading, “Against contraceptives.” They tried to provoke a physical confrontation with the women’s rights demonstrators, and the police intervened.

The conference delegates decided on a “national battle plan” of activities, including the September 26 day of actions.

In Argentina abortion is illegal and is punishable by time in prison. A court may allow abortion only in the case of rape and if a woman’s life is in danger.

Nonetheless, it is estimated that about 4 out of 10 pregnancies are terminated by abortion. According to health minister Gines González Garcia, as many as 500,000 Argentine women have abortions every year.

The top cause of maternal death in Argentina—80 percent of such deaths—is complications from abortion. In the last five years hospital admissions from botched abortions have increased up to 148 percent in the province of San Luis and 143 percent in La Rioja.

Some 500 women die from such abortions every year in Argentina, and 16,000 women suffer serious permanent physical damage, the health minister reported.  
Situation in Latin America
In Latin American and Caribbean countries, abortion is legal only in Cuba and Guyana. In Puerto Rico, abortion is legal because U.S. laws and court decisions are enforced in that U.S. colony. In other countries abortion is available only under very limited circumstances.

Complications from abortion account for 21 percent of maternal deaths in Latin America as a whole, and up to 50 percent of maternal mortality in some countries.

In two countries—Chile and El Salvador—abortion is illegal under any circumstances. Chile is the only Latin American nation where divorce is still illegal; Congress is now debating a bill that would make divorce legal under certain circumstances.  
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