CROWDS of green shrieked, jumped and wept when Argentina’s senate voted to legalise abortion on 30 December, 2020.
The country of 45 million is now the biggest in Latin America to allow abortion on demand, with the senate approving the change by 38 votes in favour to 29 against and one abstention.
In footage from Senado TV, an Argentinian television channel that broadcasts events and sessions of the senate, there were two crowds present for the historic moment – one green and one blue.
The distinction is important. The green crowd are known as Argentina’s ‘green-tide’. Feminist demonstrations favouring the law have become punctuated by green clothes, signs and scarves. Pastel blue, a colour drawn from the national flag, was adopted by anti-abortion activists in resistance. They also held demonstrations accentuated with colour.
As the result attests, Argentina’s government under President Alberto Fernández is progressive. Fernández himself has long argued that legal abortion is a matter of public health. He upholds that decriminalisation creates safe access to the procedure, particularly for women in poverty-stricken and rural areas.
But pro-life politics are not without tension in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Vice-president and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner previously expressed her opposition to legalising abortion on the grounds of her Catholic faith. The mayor of Tucumán, a small province in northwest Argentina, decreed three days of mourning ‘for the babies that will not be born’ when the law was voted in.
Blue protesters wrote to Argentina-born Pope Francis pleading for him to be their voice in the argument. He responded with a hand-written letter that encouraged the continuity of their anti-abortion demonstrations and compared abortion to ‘hiring a hitman’.
“It is clear that opposition to the legalisation of abortion in countries with large catholic communities is invariably strong,” Dr Philippa Page, a lecturer at Newcastle University, said on the role of Catholicism in anti-abortion politics. “This includes continued pressure even when abortion has been decriminalised, like in Spain.”
However, Dr Page argued it is worth noting that Argentina’s evangelical movement similarly opposed the law.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who many argue owes his position to the political might of the conservative evangelical churches in Brazil, criticised Argentina’s decision. He pledged that ‘abortion will never be approved on our soil’ under his administration.
Such impassioned opposition – internal and global – shows that Argentina’s ‘green-tide’ has far to go yet. Dr Page called abortion “one issue in a multifaceted struggle for gender equality in Argentina” where domestic violence, feminicide and pay inequality all remain prominent.
However, there is still cause for optimism. “It is hard to imagine right-wing groups being able to curb the green-tide’s momentum, along with other progressive currents in contemporary Argentine politics,” Dr Page commented.
“The green-tide movement is an important force for change and there is every indication that Argentina will continue to be able to celebrate further victories in the pathway towards gender equality.”
Historically, the road to women’s rights has always been a long one. There was eight years between the UK’s Abortion Act 1967 and the commencement of the Equal Pay Act 1970 in December 1975. For Argentina, decriminalising abortion makes that road one step shorter.
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