Legalization of abortion: how women’s strength overturned Argentina

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Legalization of abortion: how women’s strength overturned Argentina

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Although voices are still being raised against this new law, it remains nonetheless historic and hopeful.

The 500,000 estimated illegal abortions performed each year in Argentina should soon be but a bad memory. On December 30th, 2020, a little more than 30 years after the creation of La Comisión por el Derecho al Aborto- CoDeAb (Commission for the Right to Abortion), Argentina passed, by 38 votes to 29 and after more than 12 hours of debate, the law to legalize abortion. This was made possible through mobilization, activism, and thanks to the efforts of determined feminists. Decades of relentless struggle, marked in recent months by the waves of – green – human beings that have taken possession of every street corner of the country’s major cities, and which will remain in the minds of people as one of the symbols of women’s struggle for their rights. With the legalization of abortion, Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, deeply impregnated by Catholicism, marks with its seal the history of Latin America and joins Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay, where abortion is already legal.

Who are these voices that have risen up and allowed Argentina to take a giant step forward in the struggle for women’s rights? How have they managed to reverse the trend and inscribe the legalization of abortion in black and white in the law?


Taking the street and investing social networks

“Por el derecho al aborto legal, Seguro y gratuito”, this slogan, which has been repeated many times in the international press in recent months, has been around for decades. At the end of the 1980s, CoDeAb launched its first striking and bold phrases to make women’s voices heard. By the end of the 1980s, women were already trying to make noise, to attract attention, and send strong messages to serve the pro-abortion cause. As the archives of the historical movement testify, CoDeAb sought to mark each milestone of the struggle over the years with powerful and memorable words and images. Although the organisation ceased to exist in 2005, it gave way to the movement Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito, which continued the struggle until its victory in December 2020. As with CoDeAb, this national campaign, which mobilised more than 300 pro-abortion organisations and personalities, chose an impactful and direct communication. Its organisers were also able to harness the power of social networks to serve the cause.

The first movements that went viral then started to multiply, such as #QueSeaLey, slogan of the Argentinian struggle, which was featured by the director Juan Solenas in the documentary he dedicated to women committed to the fight for abortion, or #AbortoLegalYa, which was also taken up many times, mostly on Twitter and on Instagram. A way for the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito to stay present and occupy the media space. The movement quickly figured out that investing the Internet was also a way of mobilising crowds and creating a strong and active community – even more so during this unique health crisis. The challenge has been met, with tens of thousands of people following and taking part in the actions of @CampAbortoLegal, the Twitter and Instagram official accounts of this national campaign. Shouting loudly and clearly their convictions in the streets, on social networks, and occupying media space at all costs : Is this what enabled Argentinian feminists to win this fight? One thing is certain, the power of conviction of Argentinian activists is unshakeable.


Portraits of women fighters: the strength and voice of Argentinian feminism

For more than thirty years now, female figures took turns to keep leading the cause of women’s rights. Intergenerational figures, politicians, activists, and lawyers, who today give Argentina an undeniable feminist power, fully embodied in all layers of society. Among these women is Dora Coledesky – to name but one – a pioneer in the fight for the right to abortion. Now deceased, she was one of the first women to bring feminism to the ranks of the working class. Dora Coledesky began her career in the textile industry as a blue-collar worker and put the question of the right to abortion at the heart of discussions among women workers, which was unusual at the time, in the 1970s. She then became a lawyer, and after a forced exile in France during which she was greatly inspired by the actions in favour of women led by Simone Veil, Dora Coledesky created the CoDeAb with other women. She then became the face of the struggle for the legalisation of abortion. She is still today a reference for the younger generations. Olga Cristiano carried the torch when the CoDeAb ceased to be active, becoming the Founder of the Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito. This psychologist, driven by her strong beliefs and the legacy of Dora Coledesky, is also one of Argentina’s pioneers in this field and, at almost 80 years of age now, continues to advocate for women’s rights.

On the political side, the MP – and journalist – Gabriela Cerruti played a key role in the debates in Parliament in recent years. In particular, she made a lasting impression during one of her speeches in the Chamber of Deputies, in a video which has been seen around the world. Gabriela Cerruti also uses social networks, particularly Facebook, as a tool to raise awareness among Argentinian citizens, and embodies the image of a modern, uninhibited woman fighting for her rights, and the rights of all Argentinian women.

Among the younger generations, two women particularly stand out. First there is Candelaria Botto, a young economist leveraging on her expertise to denounce inequalities between men and women. A university lecturer, she is democratizing the understanding of the economic problems linked to gender inequalities. She is also the head of the organisation Economía Femini(s)ta, created in 2015, which campaigns for all women’s causes, particularly sexual health and the right to abortion. Lastly, in her early 20s, Ofelia Fernandez, one of the youngest members of the fight, does not need an introduction. She started getting involved in the cause of women very early on, at the age of 13. She is also a deputy in the local parliament of Buenos Aires, and in just a few months she has become a symbol for young Argentinian girls. In the political arena, on the streets, on social networks, the youngest female legislator in the country is everywhere, and will probably leave a strong imprint in the history of feminism in Argentina . The future of the movement is assured.


Will Latin America follow the lead?

While Latin America is one of the most prohibitive areas for pro-abortion laws, the continent’s feminist waves seem to be reaching across borders, and the victory of Argentinian women is galvanising and strengthening the struggle throughout the region.

Chile has been considering a bill to decriminalise abortion for several weeks. A consequence of Argentina’s historic vote? One thing is certain, Chile too can count on its feminist forces, such as Las Tesis Collective, known for its powerful communications techniques and interventions, carried out in particular through artistic performances such as in the video “Un violador en tu camino” which denounces sexual violence against women. While Chile was, until 2017, one of the countries that did not allow abortion under any condition, things could take a very different turn from now on.

In Mexico, too, women are taking the streets and advocating on social networks to obtain the right to abortion. The state of Quintana Roo could have become the third region in the country to legalise abortion, and the #SeraLeyQroo movement – echoing Argentina’s #QueSeaLey – had been spreading a wave of hope in recent days before Congress rejected the ruling a few days ago. At the national level, the Collective Las brujas del mar is multiplying actions to obtain the decriminalization of abortion throughout the country. Once again, social networks are being used as much as the street. Las brujas del mar has initiated a campaign – #NosotrasDecidimos – that every citizen of the country can join directly on the Telegram messaging application, to keep informed of each key step and take an active part in the fight.

Argentina has opened up a field of possibilities that Latin America may not have expected, but which the continent now seems to be fully grasping.


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License. Photo credit : Protoplasma K.

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