With just under three weeks to go until the Senate votes on the bill to decriminalize and legalize abortion, it would be something of an understatement to say that tensions are running high, particularly among the bill’s critics, still smarting from their “defeat” in Argentina’s Lower House. Lately, more and more stories have come out that show that instead of engaging in constructive debate, the “pro-life” movement are increasingly turning to violent tactics to get their message across.
This week’s edition of WTF News Story of the Week™, comes to you from Claypole in the province of Buenos Aires, where a young pregnant woman viciously attacked Leslie, a 12 year-old girl who had a pro-choice pañuelo verde wrapped around her wrist.
— Crónica VIRALES (@CronicaVirales) July 17, 2018
In an interview with Diario Crónica, Leslie described the events. “I was hanging out in the park with my friends, like any other kid would do, joking around and having fun. I was wearing my green pañuelo, because I wear it everywhere. A girl approached us and asked who was in favor of abortion, and as I had the pañuelo, I said I was.”
After debating and arguing the issue for half an hour, she then challenged Leslie to a fight. “I said no, because I’m not like that. I’ve never hit anyone in my life, and in any case, I could see that she was pregnant.” Milagros, the attacker, then started smacking the 12-year-old in the face, egged on by her friends. When Leslie fell to the ground, Milagros continued kicking her and insulting her as she lay on the ground, with the group later uploading the video to social media to mock the victim further.
Karina, Leslie’s mother, said: “I want people to see that doing this has become common behavior. They go around the barrio in groups, targeting young girls, five or six years younger than they are, never girls of the same age.” She added that as Milagros is pregnant, she benefits from a certain degree of impunity as she knows that her victims won’t fight back.
More worrying is that such attacks are becoming commonplace. The mood has undeniably soured between the pro-life and pro-choice camps, with the latter becoming more agitated and sometimes violent in its tactics. INADI, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, has reported a marked increase in violent activity ever since the bill passed through the Lower House; deputies and senators have reported receiving threats against themselves and their families from religious fundamentalist groups.
Los provida (aka: antiderechos) están perdiendo el debate. Lo perdieron en las comisiones, en la calle, en los medios, en las escuelas, en las universidades y la lista sigue…
Ya sin argumentos, solo les quedó la violencia ? pic.twitter.com/NjNFTHM30z
— Juan Quintela (@juanhoracio) July 10, 2018
The violence has been facilitated by the fact that the abortion debate is supremely visual, with a marked divide between the green of the pro-choice movement and the light blue of those who oppose it. The ubiquity of the green handkerchief, particularly among young Argentines, has lead to a surge in incidents. Álvaro Ulloa, INADI delegate to Salta, told El Tribuno that he was worried by street harassment in particular: “I’m seeing a high level of intolerance, with many complaints from people who wear their green scarves to support the bill and are being attacked,” he said.
The attacks range from from comments and abuse in the street to much more aggressive confrontations, with men and women being attacked for wearing the green handkerchief all over Argentina, from to Jujuy to Mendoza to Patagonia. In Salta, a biology teacher posted a photo on Facebook of a woman wearing a green pañuelo; the hand holding the gun pointed at her head has a rosary dangling from the wrist, adding to the climate of fear that already exists for women in Argentina’s religious conservative north.
The rosary is no accident, of course, but this demonstrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the violence. “Thou shalt not kill,” reads one of the Ten Commandments, though the pro-life movement seems to have interpreted this as “except pro-choice” campaigners. The rallying cry of “Save Both Lives” only seems to apply if the woman is anti-abortion.
Writer Claudia Piñeiro, one of the most visible faces in the pro-choice campaign, told Clarín that she had been attacked on social media. “There are reactionary groups linked to the Church who believed that this law was not going to be voted through in the Lower House, but they approved it and so now they are resorting to violence and anti-democratic practices,” she said. “The Church is speaking to its followers from the pulpit, from the Te deum, ordering them to go out and fight against the murder of babies by any means necessary, as if this were a Holy War.”
While also coming from a place of violence, these acts of aggression are intended to intimidate those in favor of the bill and to keep them off the streets. It’s clear that the attackers fear the power of the pro-choice movement. Evolución Radical deputy Carla Carrizo attributed the success of the bill thus far to the mass mobilization the pro-choice campaign inspired: “Without people in the street, there would have been no preliminary approval of the legalization of abortion nor the law for gender equality,” she said this week.
In these violent acts of intimidation, the pro-life movement has demonstrated itself to be at odds with the democratic process, perhaps believing that theirs are the only views worth being valued. “Losing” the first round of voting has unleashed a wave of anger from this side of the debate, and as tension builds before August 8th, there will surely be more confrontations and acts of violence.
By refusing to engage in constructive and proactive debate, the pro-life movement chooses to remain blinkered to reality, lashing out at anyone who dares change its view of society. Unfortunately, this violence only serves to deepen an already divided society in Argentina. It is still to soon to say what will happen in August, but no matter the result, these wounds will take a long time to heal.