Last week, the Argentinian Senate failed to pass a law that would have allowed abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The Senate voted 38 to 31 against the measure that would have helped secure a path to greater maternal health for women and girls in Argentina.
Argentina will remain one of the 63 other countries globally that have not legalized abortion in some form. After Ireland’s historic referendum in May that overturned a decades-old abortion ban, it seemed like change was being ushered in under an era of equality for women. But as you can see from this chart, many countries have laws that restrict access to abortion.
Today’s chart comes from the Guttmacher Institute, which shows which countries have laws in place restricting and outlawing abortion.
Why did Ireland’s abortion legalization pass and Argentina’s fail? For one, Ireland voted in referendum by the people and in Argentina, the decision was left to the lawmakers.
In Ireland, a vote by the people determined the right to an abortion up to 12 weeks. Previous to the vote, the polls were pretty even but on the day an overwhelming 66% of the vote went to overturning the ban and allowing abortion in Ireland.
In Argentina, a select group of Senators decided the vote not the people. 38 voted against legalization, 31 for and two abstentions. Should the vote have been a referendum by the people, the outcome could have been very different. In a recent poll done by Amnesty International, 60% of the Argentinian people support abortion within the first 14 weeks. Had the vote been up to the people, abortion probably would have been legalized, just like in Ireland.
Second, the Catholic Church, which opposes abortion, was far more actively engaged in the Argentina debate.
Ireland is a country with Catholic roots. However, in the referendum, the anti-abortion side actively resisted the Catholic church’s participation, instead relying on a moral values argument. The Catholic church has seen a series of rebukes from the people of Ireland in recent years having also elected an openly gay prime minister and legalized same-sex marriage.
In Argentina, on the other hand, the Catholic church played a very large role in the abortion debate. The Clarín newspaper, Argentina’s largest in circulation, reported that Pope Francis personally requested anti-abortion legislators to lobby the senate and reject the bill that would have legalized abortion. He also likened abortion to Nazi-era eugenics with his statement in June, “Last century, the whole world was scandalized by what the Nazis did to purify the race. Today, we do the same thing but with white gloves.” This vote is seen as the Catholic church continuing is powerful hold.
With over 25 million unsafe abortions taking place each year it’s clear that steps need to be taken to allow safe and legal access. This was not the right step for Argentina, a country that has seen the death of more than 3,000 women over the past 25 years due to unsafe abortion. But this debate is not yet over. Argentina activists have made it clear that they will not give up on securing the health and safety of pregnant women in their country, so this may not be the last time we have heard of an abortion debate yet.