Argentina Says “Don’t Cry” About Unsafe Abortion

In the land of gauchos, pampas, the tango, grilled beef, Evita and now legal same-sex marriage, unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality. In 2008, more than 20 percent of deaths resulting from obstetric emergencies were caused by unsafe abortions, according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch.

The administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s first woman president, has adopted a “don’t cry for them” policy, and cavalierly denies her sister citizens their reproductive rights. In July, her health minister, Juan Luis Manzur, signed a resolution that would allow abortions for rape victims without requiring a police report–only to issue a statement on July 30 saying that he had not signed it and that the government was “against abortion.” He said the president felt the same way.

There had been some hope about President Fernandez de Kirchner’s position on abortion because she’s a women. But she has firmly stated on numerous occasions that she has “always been against abortion.”

The Catholic Church has enormous influence in Argentina, where 91 percent of the population is Catholic, and it opposes not only abortion but birth control and sex education, keeping the laws on the books from being enforced. The president and Argentine congress faced down the Church when they voted to authorize same-sex marriages. Why can’t they summon the same resolve to act in the best interests of women and girls whose lives are at stake?

These anti-abortion policies are not benign–there are victims. Official figures estimate that 40 percent of pregnancies (500,000) per year end in illegal abortions. Each year about 68,000 women enter public hospitals due to complications from unsafe abortions, and about 100 of those women will die.

I’ve often heard anti-choice mourning about the prevented birth of another Einstein or Gandhi. But what about the loss of a talented woman who dies from an illegal abortion? Or what happens to a young woman who can’t continue her education due to an unplanned pregnancy and is doomed to a life of poverty or trapped in a violent relationship because she’s economically dependent on a man? How many of these women could have been president (albeit with better politics than Fernandez), doctors, ministers of health, teachers, composers or scientists? Of course they couldn’t have been priests, but that’s another issue.

The Catholic Church, President Fernandez and anti-choice activists everywhere don’t want to hear about a woman’s life and potential. It’s only the fetus they imbue with a future.

Photo of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner from Flickr user Expectativa Online under Creative Commons 2.0.


  1. Jacqueline Steingold says:

    Thanks, Carol. Your blog reflects why a global approach to feminist principles is critical. The National Organization for Women has an active Global Feminism committee, and we are more visible in areas of global concern. Jacquie Steingold

  2. Victoria Bruce says:

    How very sad that the influence of the Catholic church continues to work at odds to human and civil rights. In this country, the Church is anti-gay marriage as well. I'm wondering how Kirchner justifies that to a 90 percent Catholic populace.

  3. I wonder how many same-sex couples go to Argentina as tourists. Vacation and have a wedding ceremony performed as a romantic get away for couples that are not welcomed in their own country. Do you think the increased tourist dollar might be the reason the Argentine government "faced down the Catholic Church?"

    • I live in Córdoba, Argentina and gay tourism is really big in Buenos Aires – mostly among men in my experience, as there are a lot of men only hostels, men only tango, that sort of thing. There is no denying that the marriage bill passed mostly because it's a business.

      Even though the Church is strong here, I would argue that it is one of the least influenced countries in Latin America by the Church – which is evident in the passing of this law. The Church played a very strong (negative) role during the most recent military dictatorship which took the lives of 30,000 people, which I think has to do with the fact that a lot of people, especially newer generations, stray away from the Church.

  4. Good post Carol, but you've made an error. María Estela ('Isabel') Martínez de Perón became the first female president of not only Argentina, but of any republic in the world in 1974. She had been Vice President of her husband and took over power when he died. Unfortunately she was not very effective and was deposed by a coup two years later.
    Christina Fernandez de Kirchner was therefore the first woman to have been elected president, but not the first president.

  5. Sheldon says:

    To those who argue against abortion because it prevents the birth of an Einstein, it should be pointed out that it also prevents future Hitlers and Stalins from being born as well.

    Most US Jews support a woman’s right to choose, and, in my experience, most anti-choicers who blabber about Einstein are not Jews. Like, all of a sudden, they give a damn about him!

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