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Argentina: UN Experts Praise Historic Law Legalising Abortion

UN human rights experts* today welcomed the decision by Argentina’s Senate to legalise abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy, calling the ground-breaking law a crucial step in eliminating discrimination against women and girls.

“This law is a historic step in Argentina’s fulfilment of its international human rights obligations, and becomes a model for the whole region and beyond,” they said after Argentina’s Upper House, the Senate, Wednesday 30 December adopted the bill which had already been passed by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and which –as in previous similar initiatives-, has been supported by the UN experts in an open letter of 10 December.

Until now Argentina permitted abortions only in cases of rape or when the woman’s health was at risk, although in practice it was often not available even on these grounds.

“We welcome this law that should make abortion safer,” the experts said. “Criminalizing abortion had done little to stop termination of pregnancies, but simply drove women to illegal, unsafe abortions, and many women died as a result.”

The existing law also discriminated against women and girls living in poverty who could not afford to travel abroad or pay for a safe procedure, as women with more money could. It contributed to forced continuation of pregnancy even in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape.

Women and girls have rights to equality, physical and mental integrity and privacy which require that they must enjoy the right to make autonomous decisions about their pregnancies, the experts said.

They also cited World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that show that countries where women gained the right in the 1970s and 1980s to terminate pregnancies – and also have access to information and to all contraceptive methods – have the lowest rate of actual terminations.

In recent years there had been several unsuccessful attempts to get the law through Argentina’s Congress and “we applaud the extraordinary mobilisation of all activists in the country who contributed to the adoption of this law,” the experts said.

However, they cautioned that “much remains to be done to ensure women’s and girls’ rights to equality and highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.”

“It’s now important that the law be applied in the whole country and not be usurped by a political agenda or religious dogma,” the experts said. They raised concern about a clause on conscientious objection which allows health professionals not to perform abortions if doing so would violate their personal beliefs.

Conscientious objection can only be allowed where there is a clear duty and an effective possibility to refer the pregnant person to a competent and willing provider without any delay to the procedure.

“This clause should not become a new barrier to timely access to abortion services,” the experts said. “In these cases, time is of the essence.”

** The experts: The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls: Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

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