Argentina passed a law permitting abortions until the 14th week of pregnancy after several years of pro-choice advocates demanding for legalization of abortion. The move faced strong opposition of the Catholic Church. The voting on the Bill saw large numbers of people on the streets from both sides of the debate despite the pandemic. The government of Argentina supplemented the move by passing a Bill that puts in place a "1000 day plan" in order to strengthen support systems for pregnant women by providing service from pregnancy up to the first 1000 days of the baby's life.
The legalization comes as major victory for women's rights and reproductive rights groups considering that South American countries have some of the most stringent abortion laws in the world. Prior to the passing of the law, the catholic-majority country of Argentina made all abortions illegal making exceptions only in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life. Illegal abortions are punishable with imprisonment that can extend to 15 years.
According to the Centre for Reproductive Rights, among the other South American nations, Suriname places an absolute ban on abortions, while Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, and Venezuela permit abortions only to save a women's life. On the more permissive side, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia permit abortion on health-related grounds while in Uruguay, Guyana, and French Guiana abortion is available on request until 12 weeks of gestation except for Guyana which has a shorter request time of until completion of 8 weeks of gestation.
As with every region that institutes barriers to access of reproductive health services, Argentina and other South American countries also see a large number of illegal and unsafe abortions. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 3.7 million abortions has been performed between 2015 – 2019 in South America despite the wide spread restrictions on abortion in the region. Although there are no exact figures on the number of illegal abortions, Argentina's National Health Ministry reports that in 2016 alone, 39,025 women and girls were admitted to public hospitals citing health issues as a result of abortions of miscarriages which give an indication of the extent of back alley abortions that take place in the country.
The World Health Organisation estimates that three out of every four abortions that take place in Latin America and Africa were performed unsafely while globally it is estimated that 45% of all abortions are unsafe. Further 4.7% to 13.2% of all maternal deaths globally can be attributed to unsafe abortions and around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals annually in developing countries because of unsafe abortions.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee on the Implementation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in its General Comment on Right to Life has observed that "[a]lthough States parties may adopt measures designed to regulate voluntary termination of pregnancy, those measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl." The Committee further notes that "restrictions on the ability of women or girls to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their lives, subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering" and that "[s]tates parties may not regulate pregnancy or abortion in all other cases in a manner that runs contrary to their duty to ensure that women and girls do not have to resort to unsafe abortions, and they should revise their abortion laws accordingly."