Argentina's failure to pass a law legalizing abortion is an historic missed opportunity. Nevertheless, the country has grown through engaging in this debate on women's rights, says DW's Veronica Marchiaro.
In the end, religious beliefs and personal convictions have triumphed over fact-based arguments on a health issue. Or perhaps this result was also a political calculation before the next elections, coupled with the pressure from the church in Pope Francis' homeland. In any case, there was a majority vote in Argentina's Senate against the law on legal, safe and free abortions; against a comprehensive guarantee of safety for women; against their right to choose. Yet it was not only about legalization, but also about a better health policy and sex education. According to an Amnesty International survey, more than 60 percent of Argentina's population today are in favor of legalizing abortion.
But the majority of the Senate did not support its citizens' demands. There was not a vote "on reality," as ruling party member Luis Niadenoff had demanded, but on moral concepts. According to the Ministry of Health's official estimates, the reality is that there are around 350,000 illegal abortions each year. This is one of the main causes of pregnancy-related deaths among poor and disadvantaged women in the country.
The decision was taken after a public debate that made Argentina seem almost like "a mature society." Using this phrase, President Mauricio Macri had allowed the bill to be debated in parliament, even though he himself was known to be opposed to it. After all, Argentinian society is much more open than others in the region on human rights issues such as gender identity or same-sex marriage. It could have been possible to anchor the country even more firmly in the modern age and to prove that it can keep pace with the other countries in the G20, the presidency of which Argentina currently holds.
Similar efforts failed six times during the previous Kirchner government. But this time there seemed to be an unstoppable feminist wave supporting the right to choose an abortion, which was visible on the streets with supporters wearing green scarves around their necks. The debate was, as always in Argentina, intense and emotional. But apart from a few tasteless lapses and some aggression against representatives of both sides, it remained exactly that: an argumentative debate.
Change will come
It will probably take years before another bill to legalize abortion comes before the two chambers of Congress. Next year's elections are also unlikely to change the majority opinion on this issue. But Argentina could also opt for a model like the one in Ireland and let the people vote by referendum. In this arch-Catholic and supposedly extremely conservative country, there was a surprisingly large majority of two-thirds in favor of the right to abortion.
Overall, Argentina has taken a step forward. Both the public and parliamentary debates have enriched the country, and there were even cross-party alliances in Congress on this issue. And out on the streets, women have already won: They have become the embodiment of change and they will continue to fight.