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Charles C. CamosyAugust 10, 2018
 Pro-life advocates celebrate in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 9 after lawmakers voted against a bill that would have legalized abortion. The Senate voted against the bill, dashing the hopes of supporters of legal abortion in the predominantly Catholic country, homeland of Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters) Pro-life advocates celebrate in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 9 after lawmakers voted against a bill that would have legalized abortion. The Senate voted against the bill, dashing the hopes of supporters of legal abortion in the predominantly Catholic country, homeland of Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters) 

This column was distributed by Catholic News Service.

Early in the morning of Aug. 9, Argentina’s Senate soundly defeated a measure to legalize abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy. (Their current law permits abortion in cases of sexual violence and to protect the mother’s health.)

The intense debate—both in the culture at large and in the Senate chamber—often invoked a similar process that took place recently Ireland, a country with similarly Catholic roots.

There are many instructive comparisons to be made between how the process played out in these two countries.

A diversity of views on abortion made for an actual debate among those who have power in Argentina.

Activists for legal abortion—both in Ireland and overseas—used the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar to begin the end of the Irish Eighth Amendment protecting prenatal children. Though independent inquiries, including the coroner’s inquest, found that Halappanavar died as a result of malpractice related to undiagnosed sepsis, activists pushed the false claim that she died because of the Irish law forbidding abortion.

Media and politicians largely accepted this version of the story. The result was an overwhelming victory for legalizing abortion, with two-thirds of the Irish people voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment and legal protection for prenatal children.

Abortion activists—both in Argentina and overseas—used the 2015 murder of a 14-year-old girl whose boyfriend apparently beat her to death for becoming pregnant to attempt to change Argentina’s law protecting prenatal children.

The difference was that a diversity of views on abortion in the media—and especially the political class—made for an actual debate among those who have power in Argentina.

Abortion activists in both Ireland and Argentina were aided by male chief executives who, while claiming to be anti-abortion, changed their stated views for unclear and possibly dubious reasons. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar campaigned as anti-abortion but shifted his views not only as momentum built to repeal the Eighth Amendment, but also as he became shrouded in controversy when it was revealed many Irish women died of cervical cancer even though his health ministry told them they were in the clear.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri, a conservative who described himself as pro-life, nevertheless signaled that if the Senate had voted for the abortion bill he would have let it become law by not vetoing it. The difference in Argentina was powerful pro-life women in the legislature calling out their male chief executive.

Sen. Silvina Garcia Larraburu, for instance, explicitly changed her vote to anti-abortion and accused Marci of attempting to distract from the country’s troubled economy and lack of social support for women. Senator Marta Varela also highlighted the hypocrisy of claiming to be for “women’s rights” while so many women suffer because of abysmal health and social services.

Sen. Silvia Giacoppo called out the euphemism “Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy” (the name of the motion before Senate), pointing out that “interruption” means that something may be resumed later. Even Vice President Gabriela Michetti came out against the bill.

The New York Times, along with other media outlets, gave the impression that was some kind of entrenched Catholic backlash against a grass-roots abortion rights movement. But eight years ago Argentina became the first Latin American country to allow for same-sex marriage, a move that the Times itself noted the Catholic Church “fought with a vigor similar to its battle against abortion, organizing protests involving thousands of people.” Argentina has already clearly demonstrated it will not simply make law based on whatever its Catholic bishops and other priests say.

It is also difficult to make the case that this was purely a grass-roots abortion movement when NGOs from the developed West, like Amnesty International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, were so involved in pushing the legislation. Indeed, Amnesty International even took out an expensive full-page ad in The New York Times in support of the legislation—ominously claiming that “the world is watching.”

By “the world” Amnesty appears to mean the developed West, and their abortion activism, is a classic example of neocolonial imperialism into a culture with a very different understanding of the good.

Groups like Amnesty attempted to inflame understandable worries over the number of deaths from illegal abortion supposedly taking place in Argentina. Another man in support of the law, health minister Adolfo Rubinstein, claimed that 354,000 clandestine abortions are carried out every year, but there is good reason to doubt this number—and especially given that it is about half the total of live births in Argentina. The U.S. is one of the most abortion-permissive countries in the world and has an abortion rate of only one-quarter of total live births.

For context, it may be instructive to recall that one of the founding fathers of abortion rights in the United States, former NARAL president Bernard Nathanson, admitted they simply made up numbers about the numbers of women dying from illegal abortion in order to garner sympathy for their abortion-rights agenda.

Though it is difficult to know how many such deaths are a result of illegal abortion, it is, of course, deeply concerning that Argentina has a maternal mortality rate of 50 per 100,000 live births. Most developed countries have a rate under 10—except for the United States, which has seen its rate balloon to 26.4.

But to give this number context Argentina should be compared, not to Western abortion-permissive countries, but to countries in the region. Consider that neighboring Chile, which has similarly restrictive abortion laws, has a maternal mortality rate of only 20.5 per 100,000 live births and actually saw this rate go down after moving to dramatically restrict abortion. This gives credence to the arguments of the female Argentine senators that abortion activism served as a smoke-screen for their country’s genuine problems: corruption and lack of health care and other social services for women.

Circling back to Ireland again, though they had banned nearly all abortions, the Irish maternal mortality rate was a paltry 4.7—half that of the abortion-permissive United Kingdom, which clocked in at 9.2. That abortion activist groups—including a strong presence from Amnesty International—were even more fervent in pushing their agenda in Ireland raises questions about whether the focus on maternal mortality in Argentina was genuine.

Unlike Ireland, Argentina was able to resist the neocolonial tactics of outside activist groups and stay true to its values. Their courageous example may loom large as similar tactics are used to push abortion rights in other Latin American countries in the coming months and years.

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Crystal Watson
5 years 4 months ago

One of the most obvious reasons for the difference between Ireland and Argentina is the way women are viewed and treated in Latin America as compared to Europe. Larin American women still struggle with sexism in their culture, a sexism you can see exemplified in the views of Pope Francis. Another reason - the government of Argentina is still very much dominated by the church, where as the government in Ireland has stepped away from church influence, especially after the terrible clergy sex abuse in that country..

Charles Camosy
5 years 4 months ago

Yes, yes. This country that is so in the tank for Catholic authority legalized gay marriage nearly a decade ago.

Crystal Watson
5 years 4 months ago

Civil marriage equality and abortion are very different subjects.

BTW, the iidea you seem to hold that it's mainly men who want abortion to be legal and that most women getting abortions are "second victims" isn't realistic. Women are moral agents able to make health care decisions fairly easily, and over 90% of them have no regrets ... http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2016/10/the_myth_of_abortion_regret.html

Joan Sheridan
5 years 3 months ago

This article did not explain the difference between Argentina and Ireland. My friend who says the rosary at abortion clinic say the people who ride by and yell at her are always young men

Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

The big difference for me between the 2 nations was the wording of the referenda on abortion. The Irish one was to take away the constitutional right to life of the preborn, and did not require a specific vote for the active killing on demand. The Argentina one did (up to 14 weeks). Amnesty International is a disgrace. It has abandoned its noble past (I used to be a supporter) and has gone the way of most secular NGOs, becoming advocates for abortion around the world. It was very active in the Irish referenda on gay marriage (AI's executive director in Ireland is openly gay Colm O'Gorman) and abortion (the 8th amendment). They use lies in their advocacy of secular causes and are increasingly antagonistic to orthodox Christianity. So sad.

Chuck Betley
5 years 3 months ago

What did Argentinian women of other faith traditions and their supporters have to say about their moral discernment of when a zygote becomes a person?

Patrick Byrne
5 years 3 months ago

Sigh. More rhetoric from America. What happened to the nuanced discussion that used to grace these pages? You can find it anywhere but in an article about abortion. Much like the US Supreme Court, America decides yet again to treat abortion differently than everything else.

First, Ms. Halappanavar did indeed die as a result of sepsis, however the coroner did not use the word malpractice . They call it 'death by misadventure'. Tort juries determine malpractice, not coroners. The manners of death included in the misadventure category include suicide and homicide, so calling it malpractice is either willfully ignorant or deliberately misleading. Misdiagnosis does not necessarily constitute malpractice, this is a fact.

Second, it is unreasonable to exclude the fact that Ms. Halappanavar requested an abortion but was denied the abortion because her life was determined not to be in danger. Had she undergone the abortion, she would have received a much greater level of scrutiny and the risk of sepsis would very likely have been discovered. Abortion at her stage of pregnancy and at this stage of gestation in the unborn child's life typically involves ultrasound, bloodwork, et cetera. She would almost certainly have lived if not for the restriction on abortion in Ireland at the time. As it happened she did not receive an ultrasound until October 24th, four days before her death and several days after she first asked for the abortion.

Third, both the treating doctors and the coroner determined that the miscarriage was inevitable. Inevitable. When she learned of this she requested the abortion. Yet because they did not diagnose her condition properly, they denied her the sort of care that she would have received if not for the Eighth Amendment.

These things are directly pertinent to the question of whether or not abortion should be considered moral under certain circumstances. None of what I am saying is news. America Magazine does not seem to care. I know that this is technically "news analysis", but poorly written articles like this make me want stop reading. Shame on the editors.

I encourage everyone to read the full coroners report to get the facts (https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/nimtreport50278.pdf).

Patrick Byrne
5 years 3 months ago

To the editors:

I think that a factual statistical error has made its way into this article. I have spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how Professor Camosy came up with the figure that the number of abortions in the US is "only one-quarter of total live births". According to CDC the current figure is 18.6 percent. The last time the US abortion rate per live births was above one quarter was 1999, and it has been more or less falling since then (you can fit the data to a straight line with a good R squared). Would you please include a citation that corroborates the one quarter figure? If not then I kindly request that you issue a correction.


Patrick Byrne, Ph. D.

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