Argentina’s abortion legalisation: an example for Latin America?

In Argentina, 2020 ended with an historic decision which would allow elective abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy. Proposed by the country’s president, Alberto Fernández, this represented a significant change, as previously abortions were only permitted in a few specific and restrictive circumstances. However, much of the bill’s success is owed to the green wave protests, which support the right to choose and are characterised by the wearing of green bandanas. These protests have gained momentum since an identical abortion bill was proposed and subsequently rejected in 2018. December’s decision was a huge victory for pro-choice campaigners in Argentina. However, what does that mean for the rest of Latin America, and does it look likely that many more countries in the region will mirror Argentina’s ruling?


Argentina’s decision means that four countries in Latin America now allow elective abortions, joining Cuba, Guyana and Uruguay. Two states in Mexico, Mexico City and Oaxaca, also permit the practice. Beyond these few examples however, abortion remains heavily restricted on the continent, with some countries- the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua- prohibiting it under all circumstances. Abortion, or simply being suspected of having one, can also entail criminalisation in these countries, especially in El Salvador, where some women are serving lengthy prison sentences for having a miscarriage, a tragedy that courts have often speculated to be the result of an attempted abortion. Some states have attempted reforms, for example in Haiti, where a new penal code is scheduled to come into place in 2022, which will allow for abortion under some, albeit limited, circumstances. However, Honduras is moving in the opposite direction, with a bill that will make legalising abortion almost impossible likely to pass in the near future.


Elsewhere in Latin America, abortion is only allowed in select cases, which are limited to cases rape or incest, instances where there is a risk to the pregnant party’s mental or physical health, or if the foetus has serious health problems. Costa Rica is particularly restrictive- an abortion can only be approved by a doctor when the pregnancy may threaten the mother’s life. Any abortions carried out under alternative circumstances can lead to prosecution, as is the case in Venezuela, where a woman can be imprisoned for up to three years.


The green wave protests have been spreading across Latin America, with increased calls for the right to choose. In 2020, International Women’s Day witnessed protests across the region, with many using the opportunity to campaign the Argentinian green bandanas. As a result of these and similar protests, more legal attempts to allow elective abortions have been carried out in recent years. However, they have been met with opposition and have not been passed. Last March, Colombia prevented the expansion of abortion rights after a bill proposing this managed to reach a top court. 

In a region where Catholicism is declining, perhaps it is to be expected that more countries may follow in Argentina’s footsteps in the coming years. However, the rise of right-wing populism may endanger this, as seen in Brazil, where President Bolsonaro used twitter to criticise Argentina’s momentous decision. Despite the danger this presents, it is hoped that the success of Argentina’s movement, along with the increased protests throughout Latin America, will encourage similar developments across the region.

Image: New Voices on Flickr

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