How women won free abortion on demand in Argentina

Mothers brought their children to rallies. Here, a girl shows her wings that read “Legal Abortion Now.” PHOTO: Cecilia Nowell
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Este artículo en Español

Paula Carbajal is a member of the Partido Socialismo y Libertad (PSL) and Mujeres por La Libertad in Argentina. PSL is a member organization of the Committee for International Revolutionary Regroupment (CRIR). Carbajal is a women’s rights activist and founding member of the teachers’ union caucus, “La Colorada” in the province of Neuquén in Patagonia. She wrote the following comments for the discussion following a screening by the New York City chapter of the Freedom Socialist Party of the 2019 documentary on the abortion rights struggle in Argentina, “Let It Be Law.” A trailer for the film is available at

There is a backstory to the 2021 legalization of abortion in Argentina. The most recent chapter began when the annual grassroots Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Assembly) launched the National Campaign for Legal, Safe and Free Abortion in Argentina in 2003. The Encuentro has mobilized thousands of activists since 1986, three years after the end of the genocidal 7-year military dictatorship.

Over the 15 years following the Encuentro vote, women lobbied the national legislature for legalization. But it was never even debated, despite the fact that both houses of Congress were controlled by the Peronist Justicialista Party during the presidencies of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. (The Justicialista Party is a liberal capitalist formation similar to the U.S. Democratic Party.)

When the neoliberal center-right President Mauricio Macri won office in 2018, he backed debate of such a bill in congress. This was a ploy, to create a smokescreen diverting attention from his government’s concessions to the International Monetary Fund, which was demanding huge interest payments on Argentina’s debt. President Macri and the political-religious alliance that ruled the country never imagined that the bill would reach the Senate for approval.

All the establishment politicians underestimated the rebellion that ensued, led by working-class, poor, and young women. They never imagined how immense the outpouring of support would be from workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, and universities.

Rocking the halls of power. Women took to the streets in the millions to claim their right to decide and defend their lives. The movement became known as the ola verde (green wave), named after the green bandanas that became its symbol. It shook the foundations of the power structure that maintains the capitalist order in Argentina.

The ola verde sparked debate and division in every party. It fundamentally changed conditions. The mobilizations exposed the irrational, undemocratic, misogynist ideology of every institution and organization that is the enemy of women.

The forces that refused to recognize women’s rights to control their own bodies never envisaged that the battle would generate the wave of international solidarity that swept throughout Latin America. They underestimated the movement’s power to trigger successful campaigns elsewhere.

As the “Let It Be Law” documentary shows, finally in 2019, with more than 500,000 women surrounding congress and millions holding vigils in the squares of cities all over the country, the abortion law was defeated in the Senate by only seven votes. This is where the film ends.

Second mass mobilization. But the fight did not stop there. The new generation of activists joined with their mothers and grandmothers to carry the battle forward. Attempts by the Macri government and reactionary sectors to dismantle the protests and defuse the enormous social pressure failed.

This is why the Peronist government of President Alberto Fernández was forced in 2020 to fulfill a campaign promise and support a new debate in congress on abortion legalization. In the middle of a pandemic, Argentine women proved once more that no right can be achieved without struggle. Masses took to the streets. This time the bill passed, and on January 14, 2021, President Fernández signed the law for safe, legal, free abortion in Argentina.

However, we know we must remain vigilant, especially given the setback for women in the U.S., which the decision by the U.S. Supreme court to overturn Roe v. Wade represents. We know that reactionary forces in Argentina are lurking, awaiting an opportune moment to strike and reverse the gains we have just won.

We know that it is only by tirelessly fighting to overcome the patriarchy and capitalism that we can end all oppression and exploitation and achieve permanent freedom and equality.

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