Showdown over abortion rights at international women’s gathering in Argentina

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“A beautiful woman is one who fights!” (“¡Mujer bonita es la que lucha!”) This slogan captures the exuberant militancy of Latin American feminism and was emblazoned on T-shirts at the XXV Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (25th National Women’s Gathering) held October 9-11 in Paraná — an event at which the authors were proud to represent Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party.

We were invited to take part in the gathering by Opinión Socialista (OS) of Argentina. Partido Obrero Socialista (POS) of Mexico, with whom we have worked in the past, also sent a delegation. These two groups and ours share a common belief in the importance of feminism to the fight for socialism and together collaborated like true comrades at the massive conference.

Continuing the teamwork in Buenos Aires, we had the opportunity to speak on women’s situation in the U.S., including the toll that the economic crisis is taking on women workers. Audiences at a local high school and a union hall belonging to the Association of State Workers were especially curious to learn about the challenges we face as socialist revolutionaries in the U.S.


The Encuentro explodes.

The forging of these gatherings by Argentine women is an historic victory over the forces of reaction. Every year over 25,000 women come to share experiences and strategize on how to advance the struggle for female rights.

The heart of the assembly is a series of workshops, where freewheeling, democratic discussions result in written documents that are read at the closing ceremony. The movement for safe, legal, and free abortion in Argentina came out of these Encuentros.

This year ultra-right Catholics attempted to violently sabotage the workshop on “Women, Contraception and Abortion,” a group so large that it was split into six rooms.

The zealots abused the democratic process by first stacking the discussion period to rant about how women should oppose abortion and assume traditional gender roles. Then throngs of right-wing men converged on the building, crashing through the front doors and assaulting feminists with sticks and pepper spray. Workshop participants, led by several Trotskyist groups, repelled the thugs, although one of the defenders was hospitalized and several others injured. In the end, Catholic women who had been subverting the workshops were also ousted.

On the final night of the Encuentro, 30,000 women filled the streets of Paraná demanding full access to abortion for all. Lyrical chants soared above the 10-block long march. “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!” rang out, just as it does in the U.S. The government displayed its support for anti-abortion fanaticism with ostentatious police and military forces “guarding” churches as the women marched by. (A full statement by FSP and Radical Women in defense of abortion rights was distributed to the press in Argentina and can be read here.)


An international struggle.

This showdown highlighted the importance of Opinión Socialista’s call for international support in the struggle for reproductive rights in Argentina.

Over the last four decades, Latin American women have made advances in access to contraceptives and abortion but the confrontation in Paraná is part of a systematic drive, coordinated by the highest echelons of the Catholic hierarchy, to turn back the clock. We know from our own experiences defending abortion clinics and standing up to right-wing fanatics in this country that reactionary religious and political forces all over the world are trying to upend the progress women made in the last century and to keep us from achieving true emancipation.

If anything, our experience in Argentina reinforced the international nature of the battle for women’s right to control our own bodies and the necessity for international solidarity within the feminist movement.

Radical Women and the party have a long history on the front lines of the fight for women’s reproductive freedom, including current battles to defend a clinic in the Bronx; mobilizations against anti-abortion forces in San Francisco, Seattle and Portland; and spearheading efforts to decriminalize abortion in Australia.

Today we also stand with Argentine feminists in the call for legal, safe and free abortion, and for the separation of church and state.

No more right-wing assaults on the Encuentro Nacional! Long live global feminism!


Emily Woo Yamasaki is New York City Radical Women organizer and an office worker. Laura Mannen is a bilingual teacher and mother of two in Portland, Ore. Contact Emily at
ewooyamasaki@gmail.com and Laura at ljmannen@msn.com.

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