The vote was hailed as a triumph for the South American country’s feminist movement, which could pave the way for similar actions across the socially conservative, strongly Roman Catholic region.
But Pope Francis had issued an appeal at the last minute before the vote, and church leaders have criticized the decision. Proponents of the law say they expect lawsuits from anti-abortion groups in Argentina’s conservative provinces, and some private health clinics may refuse to implement the procedure.
“Another huge task lies ahead of us,” said Argentina’s Minister for Women, Gender and Diversity Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who has acknowledged that there will be obstacles to the full implementation of the law across the country.
Gómez Alcorta said a telephone line would be set up “for those who do not have access to abortion to communicate.”
The Argentine Catholic Church has rejected the law, and conservative medical and advocacy groups have called for resistance. Doctors and health professionals can claim a conscientious objection to performing abortions, but cannot invoke the right if a pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger.
A statement signed by the consortium of Catholic doctors, the Catholic Bar Association and other groups called on doctors and lawyers to “resist with nobility, firmness and against the norm that legalizes the heinous abortion crime.”
The anti-abortion group Unidad Provida also urged doctors, nurses and technicians to fight for their “freedom of conscience” and promised to “accompany them in all necessary trials.”
By law, private health centers that do not have doctors willing to perform abortions must refer women seeking abortion to clinics that will. Any public official or health authority who unjustifiably delays an abortion is punishable by imprisonment from three months to one year.
The national campaign for the right to legal, safe and free abortion, an umbrella group for organizations that have been fighting for legal abortion for years, often wearing green scarves during protests, promised to “continue to monitor compliance with the law.”
“We trust the feminist networks we have built over the decades,” said Laura Salomé, one of the movement’s members.
An earlier law on abortion was voted down by Argentine lawmakers in 2018 by a narrow margin. But in the December vote, it was backed by the center-left government, reinforced by the so-called “piba” revolution, from the Argentine slang for “girls”, and opinion polls showing that the opposition was softened.
Proponents of the law expect setbacks in Argentina’s conservative provinces. In the northern province of Salta, a federal judge this week rejected a measure filed by a former lawmaker calling for the law to be suspended because the legislature had exceeded its powers. Opponents of abortion cite international treaties signed by Argentina that promise to protect life from conception.
Gómez Alcorta said charges against more than 1,500 women and doctors who performed abortions were currently pending. She said the number of detained women and doctors “was not that many”, but did not disclose a number.
“The Ministry of Women will carry out its leadership” to end these cases, she said.
Tamara Grinberg, 32, who had a secret abortion in 2012, celebrated that “from now on, a girl can go to a hospital to say ‘I want an abortion.'”
She said very few people helped her when she was aborted. “Today there are many more support networks … and the decision is respected. When I did, no one respected my decision. ”
While abortion is already allowed in some other parts of Latin America – such as in Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico City – its legalization in Argentina is expected to reverberate throughout the region, where dangerous secret procedures remain the norm for half a century after a woman’s right to vote was guaranteed in USA
AP journalists Víctor Caivano and Yésica Brumec contributed to this report.