Hundreds of women rallied before Congress on Wednesday, taking to the streets to reiterate their demand that lawmakers approve “legal abortion now” (“Aborto legal ya!”).
With excellent timing, the demonstration took place just a day after President Alberto Fernández sent a bill to Congress to legalise the procedure in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Organisers had scheduled the event prior to the announcement, but the news gave the rally a celebratory spirit.
Campaigners, however, warned that the battle was only just starting.
"We welcome that presentation [of the bill by the government],” said Martina Ferretto, a member of the pro-reform Campaña por el Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito (“Campaign for the Legal, Safe and Free Abortion”) movement, which has led campaigning on the issue since its formation in 2003.
“But we demand that the conditions be met for an immediate exhaustive but expeditious treatment, without messages of hate and disinformation, because we already won the debate in 2018," she said.
This is the ninth time that a bill for the legal interruption of pregnancy (ILE) has been presented to Congress in Argentina, a majority Catholic country and the homeland of Pope France. Only once did a bill reach the floor for a vote, in 2018, when the lower house approved the initiative, only for the Senate to subsequently reject it. This is the first time a bill has been sent to Congress by the Executive.
Abortion is only currently allowed in the event of rape or if there is a danger to the woman's life.
Fernández promised during last year’s presidential campaign that he would seek to legalise abortion in Argentina if elected. Those plans, however, were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The president said Tuesday that he had sent two bills to Congress, one to legalise procedures in the first 14 weeks and another that would create a ‘1,000-day programme," a scheme that would provide support, care and finances to mothers and their babies in the first few years of the child’s life.
Crucially, the government has inserted a "conscientious objection" for health professionals who are opposed to abortion, though doctors must refer patients immediately to ensure they can be treated by another colleague.
Staff with the Campaña por el Aborto Legal, Seguro y Gratuito have also drafted their own bill, initially presented in 2019, which has parliamentary status and will now be discussed during the upcoming legislative debate, which is likely to begin at the end of the month.
"We found many similarities [between the two bills] and we also have some concerns that have to do with conscientious objection and the criminalisation of women [if they abort after week 14], but a debate is being opened," said Campaña activist María Victoria Matheu.
Most analysts expect the bill to have enough votes in the lower house to progress, with its outcome up for grabs in the Senate, which has a pro-government majority but is traditionally more conservative.
"We have been campaigning for 15 years [on this issue]. We are again facing a historic moment but we understand that Congress was renewed in the  elections,” said fellow activist Yamila Picaso, adding it was time for society to “pay off its debt of democracy with those with women and pregnant people.”