The U.S. Could Learn From Argentina’s Groundbreaking Plan to Reduce Maternal and Childhood Mortality

Argentina’s 1,000-Day Plan aims to reduce maternal and childhood mortality with direct payments and free supplies for pregnant people. If anti-abortion advocates are serious about reducing U.S. abortions, Congress could pass similar legislation.

On Dec. 30, 2021, the Argentine Congress passed a bill to legalize abortion until 14 weeks, a historic move in a region with some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws. Pro-choice demonstrators wait for the result of the vote. (Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images)

The United States Supreme Court seems poised to either overturn Roe v. Wade or simply interpret it out of meaningful existence. While doing so would jeopardize the lives and health of pregnant people in states like Texas and Idaho, abortion access would remain intact for residents of large progressive states like California and New York.   

If those championing anti-abortion laws are serious about reducing the absolute number of abortions, they should pressure Congress to pass national legislation that both makes pregnancy safer and provides support for early childhood development after birth.  

It’s not a novel idea. Last year, after the country decriminalized abortion—joining Cuba, Guyana and Uruguay— Argentina passed the Comprehensive Attention and Healthcare During Pregnancy and Early Childhood Law, also known as the 1,000-Day Plan. It wasn’t a hard sell. The 1,000-Day Plan won unanimous support in the Argentine Senate when it passed in December 2020.  

The 1,000-Day Plan aims to reduce and prevent maternal and childhood mortality by providing state support in the form of direct payments and free food, milk, vaccines and medicine to pregnant people and infant children.  By providing financial assistance during the entire pregnancy through monthly payments and then annually for children up to the age of three, the 1,000-Day Plan offers people, especially poor womena real choice between abortion and continuing a pregnancy when economic factors are in play.

As Argentine President Alberto Fernández explained at a press conference marking the one-year anniversary of the law, “We had to guarantee both the freedom of the woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy as well as the freedom of the woman who decides to have her child. We need equal rights; these laws expand rights.”

Since the law became effective in January 2021, Argentina’s Ministry of Health has started a campaign to educate the public about the benefits of the 1,000-Day Plan and the national social security administration is currently administering payments through its website. During the second quarter of 2021, the program counted 73,946 pregnant people as beneficiaries.  

We had to guarantee both the freedom of the woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy as well as the freedom of the woman who decides to have her child. We need equal rights; these laws expand rights.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández

It is still too early to accurately measure the law’s impact on abortion rates. What we do know is that prior to decriminalization, Argentina saw 500,000 abortions per year—a figure that represented 40 percent of all pregnancies. In other words, the previous abortion ban did not lower abortion rates, it only hampered access to care.

The majority of people seeking abortions in the United States are women who already have children and make the decision to have an abortion because they want to be able to provide better care for their existing children. 

Research supports these mothers’ intuition—children of mothers who were denied abortions have lower average child development scores and are more likely to be living below the poverty line. These women also place their lives at risk by deciding to carry a pregnancy to term—at 17 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate compared to its high-income country peers, a rate that has been rising since 2000.  

In 1994, legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin sought to find common ground between the polar ends of the abortion debate. He proposed that both sides agree that individual human life is sacred (including the life of a fetus), but that the two sides disagree on how best to respect the sanctity of that life. 

Now would be an appropriate moment to reconsider Dworkin’s thesis. The 1,000-Day Plan provides an avenue out of the limits of our polarized political discourse. The “pro-life” and pro-choice camps have perhaps defined their guiding principles—life and freedom—too narrowly. Once defined as broadly as they should be, each side’s concerns overlap.

Those who oppose abortion rights claim that they are “pro-life” and contend that life begins at conception.  Abortion rights advocates argue that reproductive decision-making without burdensome state interference is fundamental to the exercise of a pregnant person’s autonomy and free will. The media presents these views as part of an irreconcilable culture war—but a law like the 1,000-Day Plan offers some common ground. 

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) of 2021 gave us an idea of how a version of the 1,000-Day Plan might work in our country. The ARP increased the existing child tax credit to a maximum of $3,600 per child (up from $2,000), monthly payments that kept millions of children out of poverty and improved health outcomes by reducing income volatility and food insecurity. The payments also added billions of dollars to the economy, stimulating growth and supporting economic recovery. 

But alas the child tax credit was temporary, and parents received their last direct payments on December 15 of last year. Other legislation could have compensated for that, but it hasn’t received support either. Last year, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) tanked President Biden’s Build Back Better law specifically because he opposed extending the child tax credits. 

Democrats have indicated they have not abandoned the social spending goals of the bill, but even if they succeed in reviving parts of Build Back Better, child tax credits could be sacrificed to get climate change reforms passed. Republicans seem dedicated to keeping this assistance from the wallets of mothers.

But the question remains whether they’ll keep up that resistance if it reduces the number of abortions. That’s the potential of a 1000-Day Plan: protecting women and children while satisfying groups on opposite sides of the abortion debate. 

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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Kim D. Ricardo is a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina. She is a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago School of Law and a public voices fellow of the Op-Ed Project.