After an exhausting 15-hour debate, Argentina’s Senate has said ‘no’ to legalizing abortion. The legislators of the Upper House discussed the future of reproductive rights while thousands gathered around Congress for an all-day, all-night vigil in the frigid Buenos Aires rain. On one side were the celestes—for the light-blue color of the Argentine flag—who gathered to protect the existing 1921 law that treats termination of pregnancy as a punishable offense, and on the other side were the verdes, those demanding safe, legal, and free abortion. Just before 3 AM, the vote was tallied at 38-31 for rejection of the bill.
The Law on the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy pulled at the most basic personal convictions on both sides of the debate, resulting in highly emotional responses to the announcement. Many celestes danced and cheered with signs that read “Salvemos las dos Vidas” (Save Both Lives) and “Toda vida Vale” (All Lives Matter). National flags, which became a symbol of the anti-abortion movement, waved through the night sky, alit with fireworks.
Many verdes hung their heads, defeated, and embraced one another. The New York Times reported that some protesters in support of abortion rights lit fires and threw rocks at the Congress building and at groups of police officers. El Litoral also reported an isolated riot involving a group of verdes throwing bottles and setting fire to mounds of garbage just a few meters from the doors of Congress, resulting in small number of arrests. However, the number of incendiary acts were few compared to the overwhelming mood of solidarity in defeat.
Since the outcome of the vote was not a surprise—it was clear earlier this week that passage was unlikely—the energy in the pro-choice crowd was one of somber resilience instead of hope. Even before the final result was announced, activists discussed next steps to securing reproductive rights in Argentina.
I stopped to talk to a group of students, faces painted green, sitting on plywood boards in the muddy Plaza del Congreso. One young woman told me, “It won’t pass tonight. But still, it matters that I’m here, it matters that you’re here, that Congress and the world can see how hard we will fight to make this law. Look at us all, the streets are filled despite the rain, despite the cold, despite the hopelessness that those Senators inside will listen to us and pass the bill.”
“This will not be extinguished, nothing will be the same,” others agreed. “It will be law.”
While the rejection of the bill to legalize abortion certainly feels like a setback to the activists who have worked diligently for the Campaign for Safe, Legal, and Free Abortion, the fact that the discussion made it this far with such popular support signals a real shift in public opinion. Just a few months ago, analysts were saying it was impossible for the bill to pass through the Lower House, where is was approved with half-sanction on June 14th.
On the other side of the square, celestes gathered with excited energy. I spoke to a working mother, Gloria, and asked her what had brought her to the vigil. “I want to show my daughter that her life matters, the lives of babies matter, that all life matters, and to know this is what it means to be a woman,” she affirmed, gesturing to her smiling 7-year old daughter wrapped in a bandera nacional to stave off the cold.
Celebrities, influencers, and activists did not hesitate to make their opinions known, whether to express remorse or celebration for the Senate’s decision. For those who support legal abortion, the focus has shifted from the bill to the next election cycle. Journalists and celebrities have circulated infographics that show which Senators voted for and which against the law, saying “those who are on the blue side are the #SenadoresPercha [Coathanger Senators]. Take note.”
— ? Ingrid Beck ? (@soyingridbeck) August 9, 2018
A partir de hoy: senadores percha. pic.twitter.com/hnK9tHNn4D
— Paula B. Giménez ? (@YoFermina) August 9, 2018
Esta foto hay que guardarla para saber cómo votar
— Viviana Saccone (@ViviSaccone) August 9, 2018
— VL (@verolozanovl) August 9, 2018
La ley va a salir!!! pero nunca olvidaremos a todos los que votaron en contra de los derechos de las mujeres, debe tener un costo político !!!!!!!
— griselda siciliani (@grisici) August 9, 2018
Other influential voices used their platform to cope with the defeat through sharing humorous memes and illustrations, such as this one casting Argentine Senators as utterly prehistoric.
Yet another posted a parodical video poking fun at the fact that some pro-lifers engaged in showy celebrations post-vote, despite having merely defended the status quo.
Ninguna chica tendría que estar googleando cómo hacerse un aborto casero con perejil o con una percha. Tagueá a los senadores que están votando ahora, y haceles saber lo que están votando, cuando votan en contra de la legalización del aborto. @Lalapasq @marbasch @Jesicall pic.twitter.com/9DSHPxWB2B
— laura visco ? (@esplendidalaura) August 8, 2018
On the other side, there were both celebrations and reflections cast online from high-profile journalists and celebrities. Interestingly, many of these responses also acknowledge that last night’s vote is not an end to the debate.
— Gastón Recondo (@recondogaston) August 9, 2018
El niño indefenso y sin voz venció a los poderes económicos. No pudieron ni con el New York Times. Amnesty fue humillada por el no nacido. La ideología d genero sucumbió a la vida. La #Olaceleste crecerá y será una ola de valores humanos. El amor y la paz vencieron al dinero
— Mariano Obarrio (@marianoobarrio) August 9, 2018
Yo no festejo , me parece justo, esta Ley así, no podía salir, ojala pueda tratarse nuevamente con los cambios necesarios !!!!! ?
— Nicole Neumann (@nikitaneumann) August 9, 2018
“The #OlaCeleste [blue wave] will grow and will be the wave of human values,” said Mariano Obarrio, indicating the need for a growing pro-life movement to counter the marea verde. Others saw see the future of the discussion as necessitating a compromise, such as well-known anti-abortion celebrity Nicole Neumann. “I am not celebrating, but it seems fair that the law as-is could not pass, I hope it can try again with the necessary changes,” the model wrote via Twitter this morning.
Rhetoric on both sides of the aisle both during the debates and following the rejection of the Law on the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy acknowledges that the issue is far from settled.
A once-taboo topic has become pervasive, brought to the dinner tables of families across the world. As evidenced by the nation’s reaction to the Senate’s decision on #8A, the topic of reproductive freedom will be a key discussion in the political sphere for years to come.