On 9th August, the Argentinian senate rejected a bill to legalise abortion up to 14 weeks into pregnancy. That the vote took place was testament to the mounting pressure on politicians from a growing wave of women’s struggles against oppressive laws and social norms, in Argentina and around the world.
Although the law in Argentina states that abortion is permitted in cases of rape and where there is a serious danger to a woman’s life or health, abortion is extremely difficult to access even under these prescripts. Doctors frequently opt out of providing abortions for fear of prosecution. But, whereas in Ireland some pregnant people have been able to travel to England for abortions or obtain safe abortion pills from groups like WomenOnWeb.org, this has not been true to the same extent in Argentina, where back-alley abortion remains a reality. In 2013, 49,000 women were admitted to public hospitals suffering complications from unsafe abortions.
Roe v. Wade Under Attack
The 1960s in the US encompassed second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution. On the back of social upheavals, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made abortion a fundamental right according to the US constitution. But many conservative state legislatures have introduced measures making abortion harder to access. Texas law mandates two visits to clinics before a woman can have an abortion, and in 2016 Georgia banned abortion after 20 weeks.
Trump’s nomination of the anti-abortion Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme court represents a threat to Roe v. Wade. This is part of a general drive by the Trump administration to undermine abortion rights, alongside moves to defund Planned Parenthood. These examples serve as a warning that progress is not inevitable, and that under this system we have to fight not only to make new gains, but also to resist attempts by the ruling class to chip away at rights already won.
After Repeal: Decriminalising Abortion in Northern Ireland
The “Yes” vote for repeal and pro-choice legislation in the South has had international shockwaves. The director of Amnesty International in Argentina described the vote as “a beacon of hope to women around the world”. Clear parallels exist between the abortion bans in Ireland and Argentina, not least their shared roots in the social and political influence that both states have historically afforded to the Catholic church.
The “Yes” vote made Northern Ireland one of the last places in Europe to criminalise women for having abortions. Local politicians are equally unwilling to break state ties with religious institutions and agendas. Conversely, polls have repeatedly shown that a majority in both communities believe women should not be criminalised for having abortions.
In June, an emergency debate was held in Westminster on the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK. Although this represented a step forward, the proposal was put forward with reassurances to the DUP that, should they form an executive, they can still control local abortion laws. But neither the DUP nor any of the orange and green parties – all of whom have long records of opposing the right to choose – can be trusted to champion pro-choice legislation. The only way to ensure access to abortion on the NHS in Northern Ireland is to build a cross-community, grassroots movement that can keep up the pressure on the establishment parties.
By Eleanor Crossey-Malone