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Demonstrators hold up green handkerchiefs, which symbolize the abortion rights movement, during a demonstration in favor of legalizing abortion outside the Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 31, 2018. © 2018 Reuters
(Washington, DC, August 8, 2018) – The Argentine Senate, in a vote set for August 8, 2018, should approve a bill that would limit the country’s criminalization of abortion, which undermines the fundamental rights of women and girls, Human Rights Watch said today. The bill passed the House of Representatives in June.

“The Argentine Senate has a critically important opportunity to protect the rights of women and girls by ending the unfair and harmful status quo that puts their lives and health at risk,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Argentina should join the global trend toward expanding legal grounds guaranteeing access to abortion and affirming the rights and dignity of women and girls.”

Abortion is illegal in Argentina, except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk. The new legislative proposal would fully decriminalize abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It would allow women and girls to end their pregnancy after that period if the pregnancy is the result of rape, the life and health of the women or girl is at risk, or the fetus suffers severe conditions not compatible with life outside of the womb.

In testimony before Congress on May 31, 2018, Vivanco said that the decriminalization of abortion is a public health and human rights imperative. He described a global trend toward expanding access to safe and legal abortion, recently with a landmark vote in Ireland to repeal the 35-year constitutional ban on abortion and to allow parliament to regulate access to abortion.

Under international human rights law, Argentina should decriminalize abortion and ensure safe, legal access to abortion, at a minimum, when the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk, when the fetus has a serious condition incompatible with life outside the womb, or when the pregnancy resulted from sexual violence. Authoritative interpretations of treaties ratified by Argentina have long established that highly restrictive or criminal abortion laws violate the human rights of women and girls, including their rights to life, health, and not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Unsafe abortions in situations in which women and girls do not have access to legal abortion pose a grave threat to the health of women and girls. According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), 25 million unsafe abortions occurred every year between 2010 and 2014. In Argentina, according to the  Health Ministry’s official statistics, over 17 percent of the 245 recorded deaths of pregnant women and girls in 2016 were due to abortion, making it the top cause of maternal mortality in the country.

Decriminalizing abortion does not mean that more women will get abortions. In fact, abortion rates are slightly lower in countries where abortion is legal than in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute reported that in countries where abortion is prohibited or permitted only to save the life of a pregnant woman, the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women, while in countries where it is not restricted to particular situations, it is 34 per 1,000 women.

Worldwide, countries have progressively expanded legal grounds to allow abortions. The Guttmacher Institute found that since 2000, 28 countries have changed their abortion laws. All of them, except Nicaragua, expanded legal provisions to permit abortions to protect a woman’s health, for socioeconomic reasons, or for a specific time frame without conditions.

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