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III. Background

Women’s Political, Economic, and Social Status

During the 1980s and 1990s, the women’s movement in Argentina fought for and won important advances in many areas linked to women’s status and participation in society on equal footing with men.  In 1991, the Argentine congress—under pressure from women’s rights activists and strongly supported by women politicians—approved a “quota law” requiring political parties to present at least 30 percent women as candidates for seats they were likely to win.1 

A 1994 constitutional reform reinforced these advances, establishing a constitutional right to equal opportunity in political participation for men and women, guaranteed by positive measures.2  The constitutional reform also established a general duty of the national congress to “legislate and promote positive action measures that guarantee real equal opportunities and treatment and the full enjoyment and exercise of the [all] rights recognized in this Constitution and by the international human rights treaties in force, in particular with regard to … women….”3  These reforms have been successful in ensuring the growing political representation of women.  In 2003, women represented 31 percent of parliamentarians and 8 percent of government ministers, compared to 6 and 0 percent, respectively, in 1990.4

Women in Argentina have also entered the formal workforce in stronger numbers than, for example, their counterparts in neighboring Chile.  In both Chile and Argentina, women represented little over 35 percent of salaried non-agriculture workers in 1991.  However, in 2001, women in Argentina represented almost 43 percent of all salaried non-agriculture workers, compared with only a little over 35 percent in Chile. 5  By May 2003 there was little difference in average access to education in Argentina between men and women or boys and girls, 6 and United Nations statistics from 2001 set the literacy level for both men and women at over 98 percent.7  Although many women in Argentina continue to work in temporary jobs without job security and to earn less than men for similar jobs, their increasing economic independence has been essential in advancing women’s rights in general.

A strong women’s movement in Argentina has been paramount to the advancement of women’s rights.  For almost two decades, Argentine women from grassroots organizations, NGOs, political parties, and neighborhood groups of very diverse interests and ideologies have come together for an annual meeting of workshops, talks, and campaign coordination: the Annual Women’s Meeting.  In 2004, this meeting drew more than 10,000 women to Mendoza Province,8 and the year before a similar number of women met in Rosario in Santa Fe Province.9

Despite advances in women’s political and economic status, and despite continuous efforts, it has taken Argentina’s women’s movement decades to obtain even minimal advances in women’s right to access modern contraception and essential health information.  Though low compared to the region as a whole, Argentina’s maternal mortality rate is substantially higher than that of the neighboring countries closest to Argentina in their level of material development.10  Though other factors, including overall access to health care services, play an important role, the high maternal mortality rates in Argentina reflect the prevalence of illegal, unregulated abortion, which in turn is a product of barriers to contraceptives and women’s lack of control of their fertility and over decisions on the number and spacing of their children.  Illegal abortion has long constituted the main cause of maternal mortality in Argentina as a whole, causing a third of maternal deaths.11

Nationalism and Women’s Role as Childbearers

Across the South American region, many governments and legislators have historically declared their opposition to modern birth control methods, usually with reference to Catholic church doctrine.12  However, in Argentina the government went so far as to prohibit the sale of all contraceptives for several decades in the late twentieth century—an extreme display of opposition to birth control even by regional standards. 

This position is only partially explained by reference to Catholic church doctrine.  Historically, a central part of the identity of the political elite in Argentina has been that of a frontier nation to be colonized and populated by Caucasian immigrants from Europe.13  The most famous expression of this identity is the phrase “to rule is to populate” attributed to Juan Bautista Alberdi, a central figure in Argentina’s political history known as the “father of the Argentine constitution.”14  Indeed, the Argentine constitution charges the federal government with the active encouragement of European immigration.15  Over the years—most recently during a 1995 congressional debate on legal access to contraception—the refrain “to rule is to populate” has been used by various political actors to justify the limitations on women’s reproductive autonomy and rights, by reference to women’s essential role as childbearers and—as such—tools for population growth.16  This pro-natalist approach has historically set Argentina apart from the rest of South America, so much so that Argentina in 1996 was the only country in the region to provide no public support of any kind for access to contraception, and in 2001 the only country to provide no direct support.17

Government opposition to contraceptives and information about contraception began in 1974, before Argentina’s seven-year military dictatorship (1976-1983).  The opposition gathered force during the military dictatorship, and even continued more than a decade after the democratic government in the mid-80s ratified human rights treaties that protect women’s right to make independent decisions about their health and lives.  In 1974, the Perón government issued a decree prohibiting the sale of contraceptives as well as any other activities related to voluntary birth control, limiting the possibility of providing information and services. 18  These measures affected mostly individuals and families with low incomes, since those with financial resources had access to services in other countries.  The ban continued in effect during the military government as well as after the military junta relinquished power in 1983.  It was finally repealed in 1985, after Argentina ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).19  Another seventeen years had to pass before Argentina’s government place reproductive and sexual health on the national political agenda.

The topic of access to contraceptives continued to generate controversy in the 1990s.  In 1995, a draft bill on reproductive health and state obligations regarding the distribution of contraceptives was debated and passed by the House of Representatives, but the Senate never took it up for debate, apparently considering it too contentious.  In 1999, President Carlos Ménem declared March 25 to be a national “Day of the Unborn Child” in an obvious nod to those who opposed contraceptive methods and access to safe abortion.20 

Only in 2002 did the Argentine congress enact meaningful reform, overcoming vocal opposition from the Catholic church as well as several conservative legislators21 to pass the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation.22  Though the law is far from perfect and has been criticized as minimalist by many women’s rights activists, it contains important provisions for the advancement of women’s rights and health.  Indeed, two main objectives of this law—to guarantee access to sexual health information and to contraceptive methods and related health services for everyone23—would, if fully implemented, go a long way to overcome some of the violations documented in this report.  However, the text of the law does not tackle the arbitrary and discriminatory denial of surgical contraception (tubal ligation), nor does it address women’s severely limited access to safe and legal abortion services.24  The government promulgated regulations for the law’s implementation in May 2003, and the law had therefore been in force for little more than a year when Human Rights Watch conducted its research for this report.25  This law placed reproductive and sexual health on the national political agenda for the first time in Argentina’s history.26  The law also brought Argentina up to par with other countries in the region—including Chile and Mexico—where national reproductive health programs already had been implemented.27

While women in Argentina thus have seen some advances in access to modern contraceptives, access to abortion continues to be largely a closed topic despite the catastrophic effects of illegal abortion on women’s health and lives.  Abortion has long constituted a crime in Argentina.  When legislators have amended the penal code provisions on abortion, they have done so with little concern for women’s rights but instead to address the scope of doctors’ discretion in deciding when they might perform an abortion without risking a prison sentence. 

When the current penal code entered into force in the late 1880s, abortion was included as a crime with no exceptions. 28  In 1922, while abortion was still illegal in all circumstances, the penal code provisions on abortion were amended to allow for three exceptions: punishment was lifted where the pregnant woman’s life or health was in danger, where the pregnancy was the result of the rape, or where the pregnant woman was mentally disabled.  During the 1976-1983 dictatorship, the penal code was changed to include further restrictions on abortion, requiring “grave” danger to a woman’s life or health, and, in the case of rape, the commencement of criminal proceedings. 

In 1984, after the reinstatement of a democratic government in Argentina, the provisions on abortion were amended again to return to the 1922 wording, with one small but substantive difference: a comma in the text was moved.  The effect of this change was that women whose pregnancies were the result of a rape were no longer permitted a nonpunishable abortion unless they were mentally disabled.  As a result, the current penal code provides for only two exceptions to punishment: where the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger, or where the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally disabled woman. 29  These restrictions remain in force as of May 2005.  In 2004, there were several bills pending in Argentina’s congress, all of which seek to amend the current penal code provisions to expand or limit the situations where penalties for abortion may be waived.30

Despite this history, in 2004 and 2005 there has been unprecedented public debate on the topic of abortion and equally unprecedented government will to address one of the most heart-wrenching violations documented in this report: the provision of inhumane post-abortion care.

The recent public debate on abortion was fuelled by, among other things, the government’s 2004 nomination of a female judge, Carmen Argibay, who publicly announced her support for the decriminalization of abortion.31  Judge Argibay’s appointment to the National Supreme Court was approved by the Senate despite protests from the Catholic church and conservative groups, and was confirmed by President Nestor Kirchner.32  Additionally, Argentina’s health minister indicated publicly that he thought women’s health and lives probably would improve if abortion were decriminalized.  In response, Kichner was quick to emphasize that the government’s position continued to be a “clear rejection of the legalization of abortion.”33  However, Kirchner also defended his government’s health minister against subsequent attacks from the Catholic church, including by asking the Vatican to retire a bishop who had suggested the health minister should be thrown into the sea with a stone around his neck for his comments.34

The National Health and Environment Ministry has also, under constant pressure from women’s rights activists and health advocates, spearheaded an attempt to guarantee women access to adequate and humane post-abortion care without fear of legal prosecution, publicly recognizing the toll on women’s health and lives of illegal and unsafe abortions.  In October 2004, Argentina’s provincial health ministries signed an agreement with the National Health and Environment Ministry on the measures that must be taken in order to lower maternal mortality in Argentina.  This agreement included a commitment to ensure that “women who are aborting are not discriminated against and that they receive humane, fast, and effective assistance, with counseling and the provision of contraceptives.”35  In May 2005, the national government announced the publication of a new guide for doctors on how to provide such assistance.36 

The agreement signed by the provincial health ministries also included a commitment to “guarantee access to nonpunishable abortion services [i.e. where abortion is not penalized by the penal code] in public hospitals in fulfillment of the penal code’s provisions [on abortion].”  There are no ministerial guidelines on how public hospitals should provide such services.37

Catholic Church Opposition to Reproductive Rights

In Argentina, government policies and personal decisions on reproductive matters are developed in a context with substantial contributions from religious teachings and organizations, in particular the Catholic church.  The Catholic church as well as groups claiming inspiration from Catholic church teachings have, with varying degrees of success, sought to block advances on reproductive health by lobbying the national and several provincial congresses, seeking judicial injunctions against the implementation of policies and laws that advance women’s rights to health and nondiscrimination, and publicly attacking politicians and NGO representatives who support such advances.  

All NGO representatives, elected officials, and government health officials Human Rights Watch interviewed mentioned the impact of efforts by the Catholic church to block the implementation of policies and laws on access to contraceptives, information on reproductive health, and sex education.  Graciela Rosso, deputy minister of health, noted: “The Pope himself has asked us to repeal the law [on reproductive health].”38  A member of the national house of representatives who was a member of the Santa Fe Province congress when the provincial law on sexual health was debated told Human Rights Watch: “When we were debating the law, all the representatives received a letter from the archbishop threatening us even with excommunication [if we voted for the law].”39 

In October and December 2004, ultra-conservative groups who identify with Catholic church teachings reportedly engaged in violent opposition to women’s organizing in support of reproductive rights.40  Catholic church officials told Human Rights Watch in October 2004 that they did not condone the violence and vandalism carried out during the Annual Women’s Meeting that same month, and that they believed the criminal acts might have been carried out by the organizers of the meeting themselves—in particular lesbians and transvestites—in order to incriminate the Catholic church.41

The Argentine Catholic church has focused its advocacy in three areas: staunch opposition to nearly all forms of modern contraception, to sex education, and to abortion.  At the heart of this opposition lie views about women’s role in the family, and about maternity and reproduction as key parts of women’s identity.42  Increasingly, however, Catholic church officials have sought to justify their faith-based opposition to contraception and abortion in less doctrinal and more “pragmatic” terms, such as “scientific” proof that condoms prevent neither pregnancy nor sexually transmitted infections43 or nationalist concerns with population size and growth.44  Bishop Horacio Ernesto Benites Astoul from Buenos Aires told Human Rights Watch directly that he, as a nationalist, did not see the need to curb population growth in Argentina.45

Opposition to Modern Contraceptive Methods

In Argentina, Catholic church officials generally do not express opposition to all modern contraceptive methods, but instead engage in a dual strategy, expressing support for “transitional, reversible, and non-abortive”46 contraceptive methods, while seeking to brand modern contraceptive methods as either non-transitional (i.e. permanent), irreversible, or tantamount to abortion.47  This strategy has been quite successful on two counts.

First, the Catholic church’s concerns about “transitional, reversible, and non-abortive” contraception became part of the congressional record during the 2001 congressional debate on the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation, as a congressional member read into the record a letter from a Catholic bishop to this effect.48  The terms subsequently were included in the law, which stipulates that the public health system must “prescribe and provide contraceptive methods and elements that must be of a reversible, non-abortive, and transitional character.”49

Second, the Catholic church and affiliated groups have successfully advanced the position in courts that many contraceptive methods are abortive.  In 2002, the National Supreme Court, in a case brought by the group “Portal de Belén” (The Portal of Bethlehem), prohibited the manufacture and sale of “IMEDIAT,” the brand name of an emergency contraceptive pill.  Five of the court’s nine members deemed the pill abortive and therefore unconstitutional.50  Several other lawsuits brought by conservative groups inspired by Catholic church teachings have focused on the definition of “abortion” and on the contested constitutionality of specific contraceptive methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs), oral contraceptives, and hormonal injections.51 

Opposition to Sex Education

The Catholic church and many conservative groups have also successfully limited provisions of the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation that call for some advance on sex education and information on contraception, as well as draft laws and policies seeking to provide such access, in particular for adolescents.  A lawyer from the Argentine Association on Family Planning, an NGO, lamented: “The opposition [from the Catholic church] is so intense that you can’t even have a serious debate. … [The schools] teach the topic of anatomy, but nothing that goes into the more sexual issues.”52 

Opposition to sex education has been successful.  For example, in Santa Fe Province, a law that mandates sex education in all private and public schools was adopted in 1992, but never implemented.  “It got shelved,” said Horacio de la Torre, coordinator of Santa Fe provincial government’s program on responsible procreation.  “It was never implemented … for reasons related to the church.”53  The law was still on the books unimplemented when Human Rights Watch visited Santa Fe Province in September 2004, more than ten years after the adoption of the law.

As a component of civil society, the Catholic church has a right to freedom of religion and expression, regardless of the scientific or medical accuracy of the claims it makes.  The Argentine government, however, has an obligation to ensure access to complete and accurate information concerning prevailing health problems, their prevention and their control.54  Where incomplete or inaccurate information is readily available in the public sphere—for example because it is provided by the Catholic church or other civil society entities exercising their right to freedom of expression—the state may have a responsibility to launch an affirmative public health information campaign specifically aimed at correcting the misperceptions.  In April 2005 the national government did launch a public information campaign aimed at disseminating information on access to contraceptives through public hospitals and clinics.55

[1] Ley 24.012: Ley de Cupo [Law 24.012: Quota Law], approved November 6, 1991, article 1.

[2] 1994 Constitution of the Republic of Argentina, article 37.  The original article reads: “37. … La igualdad real de oportunidades entre varones y mujeres para el acceso a cargos electivos y partidarios se garantizará por acciones positivas en la regulacion de los partidos politicos y en el regimen electoral.” [37. … Real equal opportunities between men and women with regard to access to elected and party office will be guaranteed through positive actions in the regulation of political parties and the electoral regime].

[3] 1994 Constitution of the Republic of Argentina, article 75(23).  The original article reads: “75. Corresponde al Congreso: … 23. Legislar y promover medidas de accion positiva que garanticen la igualdad real de oportunidades y de trato, y el pleno goce y ejercicio de los derechos reconocidos por esta Constitucion y por los tratados internacionales vigentes sobre los derechos humanos, en particular respecto de … las mujeres ... ” [75. It falls to the Congress to: … 23. Legislate and promote positive action measures that guarantee real equal opportunities and treatment and the full enjoyment and exercise of the rights recognized in this Constitution and by the international human rights treaties in force, in particular with regard to … women…].

[4] Social Watch, Informe 2004, Miedos y miseries: Obstáculos a la seguridad humana [2004 Report, Fear and Misery: Obstacles to Human Security] (Montevideo, Uruguay: Social Watch, 2004), p. 101.

[5] Ibid., pp. 98-99.

[6] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “Consideration of reports submitted under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Follow-up to the Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of State Parties: Argentina,” U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/ARG/5/Add. 1, January 29, 2004, p. 35.

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, “UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Country Profile: Argentina,” (Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2001) [online] (retrieved February 10, 2005).

[8] Claudia Anzorena, “XIX Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres Mendoza 9, 10 y 11 de Octubre de 2004” [Nineteenth National Women’s Meeting Mendoza October 9, 10, and 11 2004], Rima (Argentina) undated [online] (retrieved February 4, 2005).

[9] Silvia Jayo, “El XVIII Encuentro de Mujeres en Rosario vota un plan de lucha” [The 18th Women’s Meeting in Rosario votes on an action plan], Prensa Obrera (Buenos Aires), August 21, 2003 [online] (retrieved February 4, 2005).

[10] The maternal mortality for Argentina in 2003 was 46.1 per 100,000 live births, whereas that number was 230 for Bolivia and 182.1 for Paraguay.  However, maternal mortality rates have consistently been much lower in Chile and Uruguay—two countries with similar per capita income to Argentina—hovering around fifteen per 100,000 live births in recent years.  Data from the Regional Core Health Date Initiative Table Generator System of the Pan American Health Organization [online] (retrieved December 2, 2004).

[11] Powerpoint presentation prepared by Inés Martínez, coordinator of the National Program on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation, National Health and Environment Ministry, “Salud Reproductiva,” 2004, slide 6, on file with Human Rights Watch.  In some provinces, the proportion of maternal deaths attributed to unsafe abortion is higher than the national average.  In Tucumán, for example, 75 percent of maternal mortality was estimated to be attributable to consequences of unsafe abortions in 2003.  “Exhortan a disminuir la mortalidad maternal” [Call to Lower Maternal Mortality] El Siglo Web (Tucumán) [online] (retrieved December 2, 2004).

[12] See, for example, “Polémica por píldora del día siguiente en Perú” [Polemic about the morning after pill in Peru], Associated Press, June 14, 2004.  For further details on the Catholic church’s influence on state policy in Argentina, see section below.

[13] This sentiment was reflected in migration policies from the 1870s and onward directed at populating the Argentine prairies with European immigrants.  See Susana Novick, Políticas Migratorias en la Argentina [Migration policies in Argentina], Instituto Gino Germani (Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires, undated), [online] (retrieved February 4, 2005).

[14] See “Juan Bautista Alberdi” (Mendoza (Argentina): Government of Mendoza) [online] (retrieved February 4, 2005).

[15] 1994 Constitution of the Republic of Argentina, article 25.  The original article reads “El Gobierno federal fomentará la inmigracion europea; y no podrá restringir, limitar ni gravar con impuesto alguno la entrada en el territorio argentino de los extranjeros que traigan por objeto labrar la tierra, mejorar las industrias, e introducir y enseñar las ciencias y las artes.” [The federal government will encourage European immigration, and cannot restrict, limit, nor burden with any tax the entry into Argentine territory of those foreigners that come to work the earth, improve the industry, and introduce and teach science and art.]

[16] See Susana Novick, Democracia y fecundidad: políticas relacionadas con la salud reproductiva y la anticoncepción.  Argentina 1983-2001 [Democracy and fertility: policies related to reproductive health and contraception.  Argentina 1983-2001], Instituto Gino Germani (Buenos Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires, undated), [online] (retrieved February 4, 2005).

[17] Population Division of United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Fertility, Contraception, and Population Policies,” U.N. Doc. ESA/P/WP.182, April 25, 2003 [online] (retrieved March 18, 2005), p 36.  Indirect government support for access to contraceptives is defined as financial support for family planning programs through nongovernmental organizations, as opposed to direct support for family planning programs implemented through public health facilities.

[18] Sandra Cesilini and Natalia Gherardi (eds.), Los Límites de la Ley: La Salud Reproductiva en la Argentina [The Limits of the Law: Reproductive Health in Argentina](Buenos Aires: World Bank, 2002), p. 29.

[19] Ibid., p. 30.  CEDAW was ratified through Law 23.179 on May 8, 1985, and was incorporated in Argentina’s constitution in 1994 by article 75(22).

[20] “Constituyen en Argentina Coordinadora por el Derecho al Aborto” [A Coordinating Body on the Right to Abortion is Established in Argentina], Tertulia/CIMAC/Prensa Ecuménica, July 15, 1999.

[21]  “Polémica en Congreso argentino tras sanción ley de salud sexual” [Polemic in the Argentine Congreso after the Vote on Sexual Health Law], Reuters, April 19, 2001; and “Rechaza Iglesia Católica Argentina Nueva Ley de Salud Reproductiva” [The Catholic church Rejects a New Argentine Law on Reproductive Health], Agencia de Noticias de México (NOTIMEX), October 21, 2002.  See also discussion below on religious opposition to contraceptives in general.

[22] Ley Nacional 25.673 [National Law 25.673], Creación del Programa Nacional de Salud Sexual y Procreación Responsable [Creation of the National Program on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation], October 30, 2002.

[23] Ley Nacional 25.673 de Creación del Programa Nacional de Salud Sexual y Procreación Responsable [National Law 25.673 on the Creation of the National Program on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation], October 30, 2002, article 2.

[24] For a full description of these two issues, see sections V. and VI. below.

[25] Decreto Nacional 1.282/2003 [National Decree 1.282/2003], Reglamentación de la Ley Nacional 25.673 de Creación del Programa Nacional de Salud Sexual y Procreación Responsable [Regulation of National Law 25.673 on the Creation of the National Program on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation], May 23, 2003.

[26] Argentina has a federal system of government, and the national constitution leaves the area of health generally to the authority of the provinces.  1994 Constitution of the Argentine Republic, article 121.  Some provincial governments had passed laws or implemented policies on reproductive health before the national law came into force.  See Sandra Cesilini and Natalia Gherardi (eds.), Los Límites de la Ley: La Salud Reproductiva en la Argentina.  Provincial government laws and policies in all cases have to comply with the national constitution—including human rights provisions.  1994 Constitution of the Argentine Republic, article 5. Under international human rights law, the national government incurs obligations for the full national territory, regardless its system of government.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states this explicitly: “The provisions of the present Covenant shall extend to all parts of federal States without any limitations or exceptions.”  ICCPR, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976 and ratified by Argentina on August 8, 1986, article 50.

[27] A publication by the Inter-American Development Bank noted in 2001 that Argentina at that time was the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean that did not have a national family planning program.  Ana Langer and Gustavo Nigenda, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Health Sector Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean: Challenges and Opportunities (Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank, 2001) [online] (retrieved December 29, 2004), p. 17, footnote 10. 

[28] Marité de Rosario, “Aborto en Argentina—Síntesis de su historia legislativa” [Abortion in Argentina—Synthesis of the Legislative History] [online] (retrieved December 29, 2004).

[29] Ibid.  For the full text of the 1984 Penal Code provisions on abortion currently in force, see footnote 166.  In this report, we use the expression “mentally disabled” to refer to Argentina’s penal code’s wording: “idiot and demented.”

[30] “Presentan en Argentina proyecto de Ley para despenalizar aborto” [In Argentina a bill is introduced to decriminalize abortion], CIMAC, September 8, 2004.

[31] “Jueza criticada por abortista defiende postulación a Corte Suprema argentina” [Female judge criticized for being an abortionist defends her nomination to the Argentine Supreme Court], Agence France Presse, June 23, 2004.

[32] “Segunda mujer llega a la Corte Suprema, que completa renovación en Argentina” [Second woman reaches the Supreme Court and completes overhaul in Argentina], Agence France Presse, July 7, 2004; and “Penalista Carmen Argibay asume como miembro de la Corte Suprema” [Criminalist Carmen Argibay assumes her position on the Supreme Court], La Nación (Argentina), February 3, 2005.

[33] “Polémica por despenalización del aborto llega al más alto nivel argentino” [Polemic about Decriminalization of Abortion Reaches the Highest Levels in Argentina], Agence France Presse, November 27, 2004.

[34] Carlos Ares, “Kirchner pide al Vaticano el cese de un obispo por atacar a un ministro” [Kirchner asks the Vatican to retire bishop for attacking minister], El País (Spain), February 25, 2004.  The bishop’s comments are particularly problematic in Argentina, where many dissidents were killed in this manner during the 1976-83 dictatorship.

[35] Ministerio de Salud y Ambiente de la Nación [National Health and Environment Ministry], “Compromiso para la Reducción de la Mortalidad Materna en la Argentina” [Commitment to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Argentina], October 6, 2004, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[36] “Los abortos no existen, pero que los hay, los hay” [Abortion does not exist, but they do occur] Página 12 (Argentina), May 9, 2005, p. 1.  For more information on post-abortion care and women’s human rights see chapter VI below.

[37] E-mail message from Fernando Vallone, technical director, Dirección Nacional de Salud Materno-Infantal [National Department for Mother-Child Health], to Human Rights Watch, May 17, 2005.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Graciela Rosso, deputy minister, National Ministry on Health and Environment, Buenos Aires City, October 21, 2004.  The Catholic church publicly voiced its rejection of the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation, inter alia, at the time of its approval.  “Rechaza Iglesia Católica Argentina nueva ley de salud reproductiva” [The Argentina Catholic Church Rejects the New Law on Reproductive Health], Agencia Mexicana de Noticias, October 31, 2002.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Alicia Tate, member of congress, Honorable National House of Representatives, Buenos Aires City, October 15, 2004.

[40] When a group of conservative Christians took responsibility for acts of violence and extreme vandalism during the Annual Women’s Meeting in the province of Mendoza in 2004, the internet publication “Catholic Panorama International” noted in an editorial with reference to these acts: “We urge that such courageous and masculine acts be repeated with more frequency in our fatherland.”  “A dos semanas del Encuentro de Mujeres, siguen las agresiones” [Two weeks after the Women’s Meeting, the Violence Continues], [online] (retrieved December 29, 2004), article dated October 28, 2004.  See also  In December 2004, groups who identified as Catholic mounted loud and verbally abusive opposition to a Dutch doctor—known for her work in favor of the right to abortion—giving a speech in Buenos Aires, an incident that left two individuals injured.  “Conferencia pro aborto deja dos heridos tras incidente en Argentina” [Pro Abortion Conference Leaves Two Injured After Incident in Argentina], El Nuevo Herald (Miami), December 12, 2004, p. 2.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Horacio Ernesto Benites Astoul, auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires City, Catholic church, Buenos Aires City, October 20, 2004.

[42] See Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XII, “Carta a los obispos de la Iglesia Católica sobre la colaboración del hombre y la mujer en la iglesia y en el mundo” [Letter to the bishops of the Catholic church on the collaboration between men and women in the church and in the world] (Rome: Holy See, May 31, 2004) [online] (retrieved February 3, 2005).

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with María del Carmen Cartazzo, doctor, Asociación Argentina de Médicos Católicos [Argentine Association of Catholic Doctors], October 20, 2004.  See also AFP, “Catholic Cardinal suggests health warning on condom packets,” October 13, 2003; “Why the fuss about condoms?”, The Tablet, February 1, 2003; “Zambia: ‘Luo’s Condom Plan is Killing Our People’,” Africa News, May 8, 2002 (quoting the pastoral coordinator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Zambia, Fr. Evaristo Chungu, as saying, “Scientists themselves agree that condoms have been failing to prevent pregnancy, and as the head of the spermatozoa is 50 times as large as the less than one micro AIDS virus, no informed person would believe that the condom will be more than occasionally effective”).

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Horacio de la Torre, coordinator, Provincial Program on Responsible Procreation, Ministry of Health, Sante Fe Province, September 14, 2004.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Horacio Ernesto Benites Astoul, auxiliary bishop, Catholic church, Buenos Aires City, October 20, 2004.

[46] “Transitional” is meant to refer to methods that are not permanent.  “Reversible” is meant to refer to semi-permanent methods that might be reversed.

[47] In medical terms, there is a clear distinction between contraception, defined as “the deliberate prevention of pregnancy or conception by various means,” and elective abortion, defined as “the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.”  Jerrold B. Leikin MD and Martin S. Lipsky MD (eds.), American Medical Association: Complete Medical Encyclopedia (New York: Random House, 2003), pp. 99 and 399.   See also Rebecca J. Cook, Bernard M. Dickens, and Mahmoud F. Fathalla, Reproductive Health and Human Rights: integrating medicine, ethics, and law  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 27:  “From a medical point of view, the distinction between contraception and abortion is clear.  Pregnancy is only considered established with the completion of implantation of the ovum in the lining of the uterus.  A woman with a fertilized ovum floating in her Fallopian tube or uterus is not pregnant.  A method that acts before complete implantation is a method of contraception.  A method that acts after complete implantation is a method of abortion.”

[48] Congressional Debate transcript, Cámara de Diputados de la Nación [National House of Representatives], from April 18, 2001, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[49] Ley Nacional 25.673 [National Law 25.673], Creación del Programa Nacional de Salud Sexual y Procreación Responsable [Creation of the National Program on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation], October 30, 2002, article 6(b).

[50] Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación [National Supreme Court of Justice], “Portal de Belén c/Ministerio de Salud y Acción Social de la Nación s/Amparo. P. 709. XXXVI,” March 5, 2002.  Other brands of emergency contraception remain legal in Argentina.  For up-to-date information on access to emergency contraception in Argentina see Consorcio Latinoamericano de Anticoncepción de Emergencia [Latin American Consortium on Emergency Contraception], “Cuadro resumen de la situación actual de la Anticoncepción de Emergencia en América Latina” [Summary table of the current situation of emergency contraception in Latin America] [online] (retrieved March 3, 2005).  Argentina’s constitution does not mention abortion.  The argument that emergency contraception is unconstitutional is based on a selective reading of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), which is incorporated into the constitution.  For further discussion of ACHR provisions relevant to abortion, please see chapter VII below.

[51]  In 2002, a federal judge granted an injunction requested by a Catholic group, ordering the National Health Ministry to stop the implementation of the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Procreation in all of Argentina, asserting that the law allowed for the distribution of abortive and therefore unconstitutional contraceptives.  Juzgado No. 3 de Córdoba, “Cuerpo de copias en autos: ‘MUJERES POR LA VIDA – Asociación Civil sin Fines de Lucro c/Ministerio de Salud y Acción Social de la Nación s/Amparo,” December 30, 2002.  The National Health Ministry appealed the case, and the Federal Court of Appeals revoked the injunction in March 2003. Cámara Federal de Córdoba, “Cuerpo de copias en autos: ‘MUJERES POR LA VIDA – Asociación Civil sin Fines de Lucro c/Ministerio de Salud y Acción Social de la Nación s/Amparo,” SALA A, March 19, 2003.  In 2003, the same federal judge imposed a protective measure requested by another Catholic organization, ordering the national government to prohibit the manufacture and sale in the entire country of contraceptive methods that include “abortive” drugs and of intrauterine devices (IUDs), again because of their supposed unconstitutionality.  Juzgado No. 3 de Córdoba, “Fundación 25 de Marzo - Asociación Civil sin Fines de Lucro (Filial Córdoba) c/ Estado Nacional – Poder Ejecutivo Nacional – Ministerio de Salud y Acción Social de la Nación s/Amparo,” May 23, 2003.  The government appealed this decision too, and the case was pending as of February 2005.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with María del Huerto Terceiro, lawyer, Asociación Argentina de Planificación Familiar [Argentine Association on Family Planning], Buenos Aires City, October 14, 2004.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Horacio de la Torre, coordinator, Provincial Program on Responsible Procreation, Ministry of Health, Santa Fe, Santa Fe Province, September 14, 2004.

[54] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The right to the highest attainable standard of health (General Comments), General Comment 14,” August 11, 2000, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4, paras. 12(b), 16 and note 8.

[55] “El gobierno lanzó una campaña de salud reproductiva” [Government launches campaign on reproductive health], La Nación (Argentina), April 29, 2005.

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