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Abortion in Argentina: Years in the Making?

September 14, 2021

By Emily B. Jackson

1. 2015-2020: Ni Una Menos and the legalization of abortion

In 2015, a feminist movement emerged in Argentina under the mantle Ni Una Menos (“Not one [woman] less”) to protest gender-based violence and inequality. As the movement spread across the continent, it also grew within Argentina to represent a multi-generational, multi-sectoral feminist coalition with various policy goals, including the legalization of abortion.[1] Feminists achieved a victory in December of 2020 when the legislature voted to legalize access to abortion on demand, a notable advancement since the majority of Argentines were opposed to legal abortion just six years ago.[2] Was this policy change the result of Ni Una Menos?

Using data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), I mapped support for abortion among the general public in Argentina from 2012 to 2019. The first figure shows the overall level of support for abortion in each year and a regression line that predicts support for abortion while controlling for year, gender, age, income, urban/rural location, and protest participation. The raw data show that support for abortion increased from 2012 to 2019. Further, the regression showed a statistically significant increase in support for abortion among both men and women, and among both individuals who report participating in protests and those who do not. In this case, mobilization does have an effect on public opinion: there was a statistically significant increase in support for abortion even among men and less politically active individuals before 2020, coinciding with the emergence of the Ni Una Menos movement in 2015.

The legalization of abortion, and the increase in public support for this policy change, was a watershed moment for Argentina’s feminist movement. But should we be so surprised? How much have public views on abortion and gender roles really changed in Argentina? Using archival sources from the Roper Center’s Latin American Data Bank, this post charts the evolution of public views on gender and fertility from as early as 1964, highlighting how feminist movements, emerging in times of broad social change, have pushed abortion and birth control forward in the political agenda.

2. 1960s: Social revolution and changing women’s roles

As in the United States and across the globe, the 1960s were a time of significant social and cultural change in Argentina. During the 1940s and ‘50s, women had earned rights to vote, join political parties, and access protection as workers, but remained largely relegated to the private sphere (Feijoo, Nari & Fierro 1996). The 1960s brought new opportunities for women to pursue employment and university studies, as well as increased access to popular culture and new consumer goods. In a 1964 poll of women in Buenos Aires, 84.7 percent believed that women should have the same working opportunities as men.[3] This expanded role for women outside the home was enabled by the availability of birth control.

Though questions on support for abortion specifically do not appear until later, survey data on women’s views of birth control are an early baseline to establish familiarity with and support for family planning. By 1964, 76.4 percent of women in Buenos Aires approved of married couples using family planning. Respondents’ most frequently cited motives for family planning were family welfare, personal finance, and “rais[ing] children better.”[4]

3. 1980s-1990s: Democracy, feminism revitalized, and abortion enters public debate

The military dictatorship of 1976 through 1983 brutally repressed leftist political movements and attempted to reinstate a traditional family structure. In the midst of widespread repression, one successful women’s movement emerged in the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who donned symbolic white headscarves and carried pictures of their missing children to protest illegal detainments and disappearances. These women gained international attention which strengthened the human rights movement that brought the dictatorship down.

Feminists in Argentina found inspiration not only from local activists, but also from the United Nations Decade on Women (1975 to 1985) and the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentros, founded in 1981. The first annual Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Meeting) was organized in Buenos Aires in 1986, followed yearly by meetings where “women of different ages, social classes, ethnoracial backgrounds, and histories meet, network, organize, reflect on their lives, and discuss the critical issues of the day.”[5] In 1988, the first workshop on abortion appeared at an Encuentro, and its participants established the Comisión por el Derecho al Aborto (Commission for the Right to Abortion).