August 11, 2010 — Since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took office in 2007, her administration has eroded protections for reproductive rights, including a reversal of the government's intention to guarantee access to legal abortion services, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the New York Times reports.
Abortion is "strictly" limited in the predominantly Catholic nation, with exceptions only in cases of rape or physical or mental risk to the woman, the report said. Despite the restrictions, an estimated 40% of pregnancies in 2005 ended in abortion, most of which were illegal and unsafe. Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country, contributing to more than 20% of deaths recorded as a result of obstetric emergencies in 2008, according to government figures cited in the report.
Marianne Mollmann, the report's author, wrote that opponents of abortion rights continue to influence policy decisions. In July, the Health Ministry "backtracked on its declared intention to guarantee access to legal abortion" after strong questioning by the Argentine press, the report said (Barrioneuvo, New York Times, 8/10). At the time, Health Minister Juan Manzur said that he never approved new guidelines on how doctors should comply with exceptions to the abortion ban. "We have said this before: We are against abortion. The president has said the same thing," Manzur said (Huber, AP/San Francisco Examiner, 8/10). However, earlier that month, a ministry official said Manzur had signed a resolution supporting the guidelines, which would have allowed doctors to perform abortions for rape survivors without securing a police report.
Access to Contraception
The report also noted that Argentine women continue to face "barriers to making independent decisions" about their reproductive health, such as domestic and sexual violence, and economic barriers that the government has failed to address.
The country's Congress in 2002 enacted the National Law on Sexual Health and Responsible Protection, which ended an 11-year ban on the use and sale of contraceptives and called for universal access to contraception and information on reproductive health. However, "[l]ittle has changed for the women and girls who depend on the public health system," the report said. Public officials who failed to uphold the law have not been penalized by the government, the report said (New York Times, 8/10). Mollmann said, "It really is just about providing information and contraception to give women real choices. That's not happening."
The report said Argentina has made improvements in two areas since HRW's last report in 2005: Sex education is now mandatory in public schools, and the country has removed obstacles for women who seek sterilization (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 8/10).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership