Abortion in Argentina
Argentina’s abortion regulation in the National Penal Code, maintains criminalization throughout the pregnancy but tolerates certain exceptions. Section 86 of the Penal Code, regulates the cases where punishment is withheld. Section 86.1 establishes a therapeutic exception "when the life or health of the woman is at risk". Section 86.2 authorizes abortion when the pregnancy is a product to rape, specifying that in case of “mentally retarded” women their legal representative must consent to the abortion.
Despite this restriction, 500.000 abortions are practiced per year, meaning 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion. Complications due to unsafe abortion are the principal cause of maternal mortality, leading to about 100 deaths per year. Each year about 68,000 women enter the public hospitals due to complications from unsafe abortions.
Argentina has a large and active feminist movement that has been pushing for the legalization and decriminalization of abortion for decades. However, despite the many advances made in the last years, there has been little progress toward changing the laws or addressing the reality of abortion in Argentina.
Abortion in Argentina is illegal except all cases, though according to the law, the punishment can be waived in cases of rape, or when the pregnancy puts the life of the women in danger. Even so, extra-legal abortion is a common practice, with about 500.000 abortions practiced per year, meaning 40% of all pregnancies end in abortion. Complications due to unsafe abortion are the principal cause of maternal mortality, leading to about 100 deaths per year. Each year about 68,000 women enter the public hospitals due to complications from unsafe abortions.
The number of abortions performed legally inside the public health system is low, though there are no statistics as to how many abortions are performed within the limits of the law. Because there are no clear regulations for deciding when a “non-punishable” abortion is legally available, women seeking legal abortions often have difficulty obtaining them due to the many barriers in the bureaucratic process and the “conscientious objection” of doctors. The lack of willing and trained doctors is extremely critical in smaller cities and rural areas where there are few doctors trained in abortion procedures. Even doctors who might be willing ideologically to perform an abortion within the limits of the law are afraid of facing prosecution due to the lack of procedural clarity surrounding the legal administration of abortion. Therefore, even women supposedly eligible for a legal abortion are forced to resort to the clandestine market.
Abortions performed clandestinely in Argentina vary in terms of method and security. Usually those with the money to pay for safe abortions are able to access one, either finding a well-equipped clinic or being able to find reliable access to a medical abortion. Women with less financial resources tend to undergo more risky procedures or attempt self-induced abortions using more dangerous, invasive methods, such as placing rubber tubes or other objects inside the uterus, or using knitting needles or other make-shift instruments. However, the knowledge about, and availability of misoprostol have been instrumental in lowering the incidence of death or serious injury from unsafe abortion, as have improvements in post-abortion care, although there is still much to be done in this area.
In 2005, the government published a guide to humanitarian post-abortion care, although in many hospitals and clinics these guidelines are not implemented or not followed and fear of prosecution can lead to women not denouncing mistreatment. Mis- and inappropriate treatment of abortion complications within the hospital system, as well as the fear of mistreatment that causes for delay seeking help, are principal factors for mortality due to unsafe abortion, as is a lack of information about post-abortion complication symptoms.
Women’s fears of mistreatment and judicial consequences upon seeking medical treatment are justified. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have reported that women seeking treatment for incomplete abortion have been given curettage (scraping of the uterus to take out the remains of the incomplete abortion) without anesthesia as a way to make the woman “pay” for her crime, and women are often not seen or made to wait longer to be seen due to the ethical beliefs of the doctor. Doctors often believe that they have the right, or even duty, to report women to the police for having provoked an abortion, even though the law states that doctor – patient confidentiality is obligatory in cases of abortion.
Abortion is a public health problem in Argentina that needs to be faced, and it is also a social justice problem, as complications of unsafe abortions affect disproportionately those living in impoverished and rural areas.
Human Rights Watch:
Center for Reproductive Rights: