Argentina’s groundbreaking abortion law has gone into force under the watchful eyes of women’s groups and government officials, who hope to ensure its full implementation despite opposition from some conservative and church groups.
Argentina became the largest nation in Latin America to legalise elective abortion after its Senate passed a law in December.
The law guarantees the procedure up to the 14th week of pregnancy and beyond that in cases of rape or when a woman’s health is at risk.
The vote was hailed as a triumph for the country’s feminist movement that could pave the way for similar actions across the socially conservative, heavily Roman Catholic region.
Church leaders have criticised the decision and Pope Francis had issued a last-minute appeal before the vote.
Supporters of the law say they expect lawsuits from anti-abortion groups in Argentina’s conservative provinces and some private health clinics might refuse to carry out the procedure.
“Another huge task lies ahead of us,” said Argentina’s minister of women, gender and diversity, Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta, who has acknowledged there will be obstacles to the law’s full implementation across the country.
Doctors and health professionals can claim conscientious objection to performing abortions, but cannot invoke the right if a pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger.
A statement signed by the Consortium of Catholic Doctors, the Catholic Lawyers Corporation and other groups called on doctors and lawyers to “resist with nobility, firmness and courage the norm that legalises the abominable crime of abortion.”
Under the law, private health centres that do not have doctors willing to carry out abortions must refer women seeking abortions to clinics that will.
Any public official or health authority who unjustifiably delays an abortion will be punished with imprisonment from three months to one year.
The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, an umbrella group for organisations that for years fought for legal abortion, vowed to “continue monitoring compliance with the law.”
“We trust the feminist networks that we have built over decades,” said Laura Salome, one of the movement’s members.
A previous abortion bill was voted down by Argentine lawmakers in 2018 by a narrow margin.
Tamara Grinberg, 32, who had a clandestine abortion in 2012, celebrated that from now on “a girl can go to a hospital to say ‘I want to have an abortion'”.
While abortion is already allowed in some other parts of Latin America – such as in Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico City – its legalisation in Argentina is expected to reverberate across the region, where dangerous clandestine procedures remain the norm.