Earlier this month, the government of Argentina enacted a law that massively expands abortion access. This is the culmination of an inspiring mass movement that provides clear lessons for the ongoing fight for abortion access in the United States. And, this win for abortion rights in deeply Catholic Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, could have a seismic effect on the rest of Latin America, where only a small handful of countries allow legal abortions.
Previously, abortion was only legal in Argentina in the case of rape or if continuing the pregnancy posed a risk to the pregnant person’s health. The new law, which Congress passed in December and which President Alberto Fernández signed on January 14, allows abortion without exception until the 14th week of pregnancy.
Those in power did not hand over this victory willingly. Women and other supporters of the pro-choice movement have been advocating for the right to choose for decades, with the struggle reaching its peak in recent years. In 2015, widespread rage over the murder of a pregnant 14-year-old at the hands of her boyfriend boiled over into a dogged mass movement against femicide and sexual violence that then expanded to include a popularized demand for legalized abortion.
The pro-choice Green Wave movement, named for the green scarfs donned by many participants, saw mass mobilizations and street protests that forced a public conversation about the need for abortion access. In 2018, the movement came incredibly close to forcing through a victory for abortion rights, with the Argentinian Congress failing to legalize the procedure by just a few votes.
Far from being dissuaded, the Green Wave continued to build. Similar to the successful campaign for abortion rights in Ireland, activists shifted the narrative by accurately exposing the dire effects an unwanted pregnancy can have on women, particularly working class women. Pro-choice organizers consistently explained that abortions will continue to happen at similar rates regardless of legality, and that lawmakers should support the right to choose to avoid more people dying from unsafe, illegal abortions on top of the thousands of Argentinians who have already met that fate. The bold organizing shifted public opinion and forced the government’s hand.
Failure of the Establishment
The new law is not without blemishes. There are exceptions for healthcare providers to refuse to perform abortions as “conscientious objectors.” And, those who receive an abortion after the 14th week of pregnancy can face up to a year in prison. Weak leftist lawmakers and movement leaders allowed these concessions to be built into the new law by failing to mobilize for unlimited abortion access.
Still, for Argentina to move from functionally no legal abortion to legalized abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy is a massive triumph and shows the power of a strong mass movement.
Bringing the Fight to the U.S.
Although Roe v. Wade is currently the law of the land, we in the U.S. cannot afford to be complacent with regard to our access to safe and legal abortions. The new conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court, as well as relentless attacks on the state level, mean that abortion rights in the U.S. are in serious jeopardy. We can apply lessons from Argentina to the U.S. as we look to build a fighting abortion rights movement that can protect the gains made since Roe v. Wade while expanding abortion access further.
Rather than wait for Democratic Party lawmakers to act, we should organize mass actions in response to attacks on abortion rights. The working class in the U.S. must link the fight for guaranteed abortion access with the fight for a living wage, affordable housing, and universal healthcare to guarantee all women are able to afford and support a child if they want to, or access abortion if they don’t. Women’s organizations should link up with labor unions and other progressive groups to organize for a living wage, guaranteed rent-controlled housing, and universal healthcare.
Luckily, we can look to the brave feminist fighters of Argentina as we build an unapologetic, working class movement to defend and expand abortion access and ensure these rights remain in place for decades to come.