"Legal abortion now!"

The board faculty at the National University of Medicine in Rosario unanimously voted to move forward and develop courses that will address the concept of abortion as an issue of health last Thursday. The university will be the first in Argentina to offer curricula that will highlight the public health concerns of, and medical aspects associated with abortion. 

It may come as no surprise that the courses’ approval was met with enormous opposition. In fact, the university received more than ten thousand letters and emails from individuals campaigning to prevent the development of the curricula. The university’s Dean of Medicine, Ricardo Nidd, called the opposition indicative of the desire to subjugate the university’s independence. He assured critics that the course’s merits were based on science, not ethics. “It should come as no surprise that the university takes on the subject of abortion academically,” said Nidd. “None of the emails will diminish the university’s autonomy.”

In an interview later conducted by La Ocho, a popular radio station in Rosario, Nidd acknowledged that conversations regarding abortion in Argentina have never been easy. He said that the community response to the decision reflected a prejudicial narrative that exists within the context of abortion in Argentina. He said critics have narrowed their focus to include superficial elements of abortion education, and have largely ignored the important questions.

“Nobody asked me about the curricula of the subject, what the contents of the course will be, how it will be developed, or what issues will be addressed,” he said. “We are facing a problem that exists; it would be foolish to deny it.”

While most of the public’s reaction has been in opposition to the faculty’s decision to move forward with the course, there was also some support for the course. According to Clarín, more than 2,000 emails were sent by people who agreed with the board’s verdict.

Before 2007, there were no public health records that could confirm that an abortion had ever taken place in Argentina. Despite legal barriers, an estimated 500,000 abortions occur every year in Argentina — a figure that constitutes nearly 40% of all the pregnancies in the nation by some reports. Punitive consequences of receiving an abortion have recently been reduced, but are the subject of criticism by women’s rights activists.

In 2012, the Supreme Court updated the circumstances under which women could access legal (or “non-punishable”) abortions. Following the F.A.L ruling, abortion became legal in cases where a woman’s health is at risk or when the pregnancy was a result of any form of rape — previously, only rape involving women with mental disabilities sanctioned a legal abortion. 

Abortion clinics and doctors are also often penalized under the current laws on the books. Enforcement is particularly strict in the City of Buenos Aires. Police raids on abortion clinics happen with frequency in the capital. Dr. German Pablo Cardoso, an Argentine gynecologist, feared that his clinic would be shut down and his employees persecuted unless he left the city in 2011. “There was a strong demand [in Buenos Aires] because there are a lot of underground people [amature service providers], who aren’t doctors, and who perform abortions in awful places,” Cardoso said in an interview with Vice. Cardoso was forced to move to a smaller town outside of the Buenos Aires province when he felt his values no longer outweighed fears of persecution.

It’s clear to see that multiple legal barriers exist for women’s rights activists who promote viable, legal, and safe access to abortions. Despite numerous attempts, the lawmakers who have attempted to defend these rights found themselves crashing against the anti-choice ideology on multiple fronts — be it from powerful members of Argentina’s economic elite or the more socially conservative constituents in northern provinces of the country.

Both President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Mauricio Macri have come out publically as being against abortion. The Buenos Aires Province government backtracked on its decision to start applying a legal abortion protocol last year. Rumors indicate that this backtracking could be due to the pressure from the Church and the more religious members of María Eugenia Vidal’s administration, who herself is a vocal proponent of the Catholic Church.

While the underlying debate for these rights continues, many have trouble questioning the value of the National University of Medicine in Rosario educating future doctors on the technical aspects of abortion considering the large numbers of Argentine women who are hospitalized and die every year as a result of botched termination attempts.