Imagine a country where elective abortion is not legal and where there has been a strong culture of life: That country is Argentina today — but it is on the brink of legalizing elective abortion.
Argentinian President Alberto Fernández, elected in December 2019, stated on March 1 that he would present a bill legalizing abortion within 10 days. It could happen at any moment. Currently, the country only allows abortion in cases of danger to the mother’s life or health and in cases of rape. If abortion becomes decriminalized there, it would be the largest Latin American nation to do so.
“During his first speech to Congress, he said we are in the 21st century and that society should respect people’s right to do what they want with their body, that it is a woman’s right to decide,” said Graciela Lopez Clair, head of the pro-life movement in Neuquén, which is in Argentina’s Patagonia region. “How can he present this bill when the unborn child is protected in our constitution?”
This is an issue that has legal analysts perplexed.
In 1989, Argentina ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human-rights treaty that set out all the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. In 1990, Argentina passed law 23849, which clarified that a child was understood to mean a human person from the moment of conception until the age of 18.
In 1994, Argentina reformed its constitution and incorporated the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child into it, thereby enshrining the right to life of unborn children in the national constitution.
“Argentina is a country where the juridical norms shelter the right to life of all humans from the moment of conception,” said Gabriela Quadri, a pro-life Argentine lawyer with the group Movimiento Provida Rosario. She is also a member of Human Life International.
“In relation to the matter of abortion, legislation in Argentina is very clear,” said Quadri. “If they want to legalize abortion, they would have to reform the constitution, which is a really long and complicated process. But there is a great deal of corruption here. Even though abortion is illegal here, they still allow it for the ‘health’ of the mother, which can mean anything.”
Argentina not only has protections for unborn children in its constitution — it also celebrates unborn children every year. In 1998, after a visit to the Vatican with Pope John Paul II, Argentinian President Carlos Menem passed a decree declaring March 25 — the feast of the Annunciation — to be the “Day of the Unborn Child.” This has become the de facto annual “Pro-Life Day,” whereby Masses and marches for life are held throughout the country.
The first attempt to legalize abortion came in early 2018 under President Mauricio Macri, when the Argentine Congress tried to pass a law decriminalizing abortion and providing it free of charge in all national health clinics. On June 14, 2018, the bill passed in the chamber of deputies. On Aug. 9, 2018, the bill was rejected by the Senate by a margin of seven votes.
“We stayed outside of Parliament until 2am praying for that vote. People walked to Parliament from all over Argentina carrying the image of Our Lady of Lujan [the Marian patron of Argentina]. Imagine, seven people saved the lives of millions of unborn children,” said Mariana Rodriguez Varela, a pro-life activist in Argentina.
Though abortion remained illegal, the legislative debate created something unexpected: a massive, grassroots pro-life movement.
“The pro-life movement began literally overnight two years ago. We just started gathering and organizing marches throughout the country, talking about this issue to people in the street, to priests, speaking about it in Church,” said Lopez. “There had always been a pro-life movement or feeling in the country, but we didn’t need to do anything because abortion was not in our country.”
Groups have sprung up all over Argentina: Teachers for Life, Artists for Life, Doctors for Life, Lawyers for Life. Every province in Argentina now has a pro-life group. There are pro-life groups for every religion in Argentina. And there are also groups that help women who are faced with unplanned pregnancies.
“Protestants are working very hard alongside Catholics. Though the majority of the country is Catholic, Protestants seem to be more organized than Catholics,” said Lopez.
Opposition to the pro-life movement comes from groups that are largely funded by foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The feminist groups in Argentina are called the “Green Movement,” as participants always wear the color green when they march in the streets.
“There is a lot of money coming from international organizations, mostly from George Soros’ Foundation Open Society, and also from Planned Parenthood,” said Rodriguez.
“The people of Argentina are culturally pro-life. People don’t understand abortion as a person’s choice. It is not in their mind whether the unborn child should live or not. These ideas of ‘choice’ are ideological colonization. They don’t come from here,” she said.
As people wait to see what will happen with President Fernandez’s bill, the pro-life movement believes that lobbying and prayer are vital.
“We have a big support from the bishops and priests. We need prayer. It is the strongest thing we can do. Before every march, we always pray. Here in Argentina, to be pro-life is natural. It is like marching for the sky to be blue. The culture is pro-life. The Green Movement knows this. This is why they oppose a referendum on abortion: because they know they would lose,” said Lopez.
However, she warned, “We don’t know what will happen if the vote were to happen tomorrow. With politicians, in general, they are in another caste. They don’t support life. When we had the vote in 2018, we thought we had won in the chamber of deputies, but three deputies changed their votes because they were paid to change their votes.”
As Argentina prepares for their president to present the abortion bill, 100,000 people attended a pro-life Mass on March 8, the U.N.-sponsored International Women’s Day, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan, 70 kilometers (43 miles) outside of Buenos Aires. The theme of the Mass was “Yes to Women. Yes to Life.”
Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro, president of the Argentine Catholic Bishops’ Conference, condemned the cruelty of “feminicides” — the abortion of girls — and all kinds of violence and discrimination against women.
He also questioned how a nation with 4,500 illegal settlements could claim that abortion was a priority.
“In reality, we value and defend the rights of each and every life, of every woman and every unborn child,” said Bishop Ojea.
“Life is the first right, and without it there can be no others. We claim it for everyone, at any age or situation in which that life is found, and in a special way for those who are weak, unprotected and defenseless.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from New York.