Three Argentinean partners who work on gender, sexuality and abortion matters generously share their views on key undercurrents of the process leading to the partial approval of the Voluntary Interruption Law (LIV) by the House of Representatives on June 14th and explore what may come next.
In a very moving way, great rallies and cultural effervescence marked the demonstrations to approve the right to abortion in Argentina in the past few months. I want to call attention, in particular, to the massive integration across generations, social classes, political traditions and communities that coalesced around this historical feminist vindication. This is an unprecedented achievement in a society with deep authoritarian traces. This colossal mobilization is the daughter of a collective feminist effort that has been thoroughly sustained through many decades. Feminisms are democratic laboratories grounded on critical debates and collective experiments that are essential to dismantle the patriarchal order. This is where the tools were built to propel the unapologetic disruption and de-stabilization of political institutional and political parties’ spaces by feminist actresses, claims, and practices. On the one hand, the feminist claim for abortion legalization has woven transversal threads that break through the conventional political partisanship logic and re-arranged alliances and solidarities according to entirely new criteria, even when this was not exempt from (new) tensions and instabilities. On the other hand, this novel political fabric was also linked to the wider and more creative public demonstrations Argentina has seen since democracy was reestablished in the 1980´s. We celebrate the fruitful outcome of this (feminist) politics that, in Hannah Arendt’s word, was able to “bring to light what is great and radiant”. What ever may come next, we will never be the same.
The green tide reached the Congress: a tide of activists, social movements, voices, action, struggle and great perseverance on the part of many women. I am sure my friends will illuminate this remarkable journey of commitment and intelligence, which is both about past and present and was central to the outcome. My comment refers to just one point, which may be taken for granted, but, in my view, should not. This is the same point that has been paramount to the approval of same-sex marriage in Argentina in 2011 as well as of the 2012 abortion law reform in Uruguay. The point is that we must recognize that without political parties, without party leaders, without governmental central figures, it is not possible to score the goal that will determine the result of the final the match (if you allow me this soccer imagery). In this case, we have a president who clearly is not very appealing, whom we are not at all fond of but who, at least, did not create any obstacles to the processing of abortion as a legislative matter. This is very unusual in Argentina. He did not create either obstacles for ministers to express their voices and there were those, such as the Minister of Health, who positively engaged in the debate. There was also much intelligence on the part of female legislators and of some male MPs who worked together for the provision to prosper, even when they had good reasons not to cooperate with each other. There was lobby. There was also political opportunism, demonstrating that if legal abortion has become the subject of such strategy, this means that political battle had already been won at the ideological level. There was civil society participation in the Congress arena (and I am deliberately underlining the engagement within the walls of Congress. To summarize: the relationship between social movements and the state in our formal democracies is always mediated by the articulations made by political parties and the institutionalization of conflicts within the spaces of the legislative, the judiciary and even the executive branch. I have always been optimistic and today I have all the reasons to continue to be so. Very soon we will have a law.
On the morning of June 14, after the marathon of the parliamentary debate, the House of Representatives of Argentina approved the draft bill granting the right to legal abortion. This partial approval resulted from a long and winding road tracked by the feminist movement. And, the legislative process itself was remarkable democratic: the Special Commission discussing the provision has heard 738 speakers — both favor an against abortion — in the course of fifteen sessions. In other three subsequent sessions, the consensus on the text was reached amongst legislators before it was sent to the voting and approved by the plenary of the House. This was a rare and remarkable example of democratic and republican institutions functioning well in Argentina. The bill, however, has to overcome obstacles before becoming law, as it must still be approved by the Senate, whose composition is more conservative and various of its members are connected to provincial state governors that do not support abortion and ecclesiastical institutions. Even if approved by the Senate a backlash can be predicted, as anti – abortion religious conservative sectors will make all efforts possible to curtail the newly gained right. Even now, a number of medical institutions are already claiming the right to “institutional conscientious objection” (even when such a development is prevented by the text of the bill). “Pro-life” NGOs have also begun to wrongfully spread the view that the law is unconstitutional and announcing that they will challenge it in case it is approved. Yet, whatever may happen next, as big as the challenged ahead may, be these forces will face a fierce relentless resistance on the part of the Argentinian feminist movements.