Writing about what happened on the night of June 13 and on the morning of the 14th is certainly a challenge, not only because the Lower House voting to approve the bill to decriminalize and legalize abortion is a historical event of massive proportions, but also because much of what was experienced outside Congress last night was so visceral. By that I mean that every emotion was so vividly felt in our body: the freezing cold, the nail-biting anxiety, the thousands of people surrounding us and make it hard for anyone to move.
But let’s start from the beginning. Preparations began in the early hours of Wednesday, before any of the tens of thousands of people (or more) who would show up at Congress later was awake. Although in all fairness, chances are many of them probably were awake; many of us have had trouble sleeping in the days leading up to the vote. What was at stake was, after all, the possibility of conquering the first step toward the right to govern our own bodies, something that has been a major concern for feminism in this country for generations. This particular bill had been tabled seven times since 2007, and June 13 felt as good a day as any to make this bill move closer to becoming a law.
It wasn’t long before the streets were filled with green. Women and men of all ages showed up in droves to show their support for legal, safe, and free abortion. The square in front of Congress had been divided into two to avoid confrontations, and aerial photo coverage of the evening showed a very literally separated country. On the side of Avenida Rivadavia were the glittered-up faces of thousands and thousands activists claiming for the legalization of abortion. To the south of the Congress were those who were, in their own words, “defending life.” It is worth noticing that this label is a sinister linguistic tactic that partly succeeded. Many of the people present – and 125 lawmakers in the Lower House, we would find out the next morning – equate a zygote with fully formed human person and believe that, on top of it, it is worth more than the lives of the hundreds of women that die in clandestine abortions every year.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the debate was so long and arduous was because the two sides were having two different conversations. Yours truly took the bullet for you, and decided to go on an exploratory mission to the uncharted waters of the pro-lifers, as a sort of anthropological experiment. You know how it goes: “Know thy enemy.” The manifestation was much smaller than that on the other side of Rivadavia, but it was still respectable in terms of numbers; not so in terms of arguments. There were many things worth noting and retelling. Viviana Canosa performing a live ultrasound – and revealing a fetus that was at least 20 weeks old, 6 weeks beyond than what the law would allow for the termination of that pregnancy – is, perhaps, the most bizarre of all events. I would’ve felt like I was in The Handmaid’s Tale if it hadn’t been for the playing on loop of the song “Vivir mi vida” while the session in the Lower House was muted in the background; that made me feel like I was at a fiesta de quince and reminded me that if I had come to this side looking for valid reasons to change my mind, I wasn’t going to find them.
Inside Congress, we were being compared to dogs and marsupials. On the streets, religious groups were shouting “viva Cristo rey” and saying that if one of the two lives had to die, let it be the mother – as if the embryo could live outside the womb. But what struck me the most out of all the barbarities I heard that day and in the last few weeks during the sessions held at the Lower House was a man who, when interviewed by a local newspaper, said that those of us on the other side of the fence didn’t know how to love.
I was reminded then that the grass was much greener on the other side, and I headed back to Corrientes and Callao. I walked back to what on any other day was just a busy and noisy intersection, but which for that night felt like home. I had mate with my friends, bumped into virtually everyone I know, sang feminist songs with fabulous musicians that popped out of nowhere and danced to Jimena Barón, Eruca Sativa and Las Taradas on the main stage of the National Campaign for Legal Abortion. As the hours wore on, I started feeling the cold gnaw deep into my bones. In what looked a lot like a holiday campsite, I came near fires and saw people hug each other in tents and under blankets. I saw, live and in the flesh, the stamina and power I had seen behind the women’s movement on social networks and in the media.
Above all, however, and at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, I was simply very happy. I was amazed at how much hatred I had seen from the “life lovers” on the other side. It’s funny, because the current state of the law, which has been so for almost one hundred years, is on their side. If anything, we have the right to be as angry as they were for all the women who have died because we, as a society, refused to have this discussion sooner. And we certainly were angry. The difference is that we chose to channel that into a fight that we could win, into a tangible political policy that we felt would make this a more just country. What for them was a source of uncontrollable frustration became fuel for us. In the words of Ofelia Fernández, “The only thing greater than the love of freedom is the hatred of he who takes it away from you.”
I was reminded of another quote from one of my favorite books, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson. The novel does a great job at illustrating what it was like to live in the sixties, and at one point Thompson says “You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
The truth, however, is that we didn’t know that we were winning. We weren’t winning. For a moment there at about six in the morning it felt like we were going to lose. And it would’ve been not only devastating, but also incredibly unfair to the hordes of people who gathered outside Congress for more than 24 hours. The roar of the people was deafening, and seemed impossible to ignore. In any case, there was a feeling that win or lose, the fact that we were there, that so many of us had flooded our homes, our jobs, our schools, even our churches and temples with this gigantic green wave was already a huge win. Of course we need this law to pass: it is very literally a matter of life and death. But the sorority that kept us warm on Wednesday is here to stay. Thompson got one thing wrong, though: there is a point in fighting. It is years of fighting that got us here. And we have feminism to thank for teaching us all a lesson on perseverance and coming together for a cause.