Descrição de chapéu Argentina

Argentina Becomes Refuge for Brazilian Women Seeking Abortions

Women travel by land and by air to cities like Rosario to terminate pregnancy in the country that legalized the practice

Doctor and patient hold hands during the procedure in Rosario

Doctor and patient hold hands during the procedure in Rosario - Virginia Benedetto/Folhapress

rosario, argentina

Case of M.
It was a mutual decision. When the nausea started and Brazilian woman M. took a pregnancy test in the bathroom without her family knowing (they were in the next room), she called her boyfriend. "What are we going to do?" Becoming parents at 21 and 23 years old wasn't an option.

As university students, they decided on abortion. However, M. wanted a safe procedure, without the risk of ending up in a hospital room and potentially facing hostility.

"Let's go to another country," she suggested, despite never having set foot outside Brazil. The two researched and discovered the right to abortion in Argentina. Like many Brazilian women, M. saw the neighboring country as a safe haven.

The couple arrived in Buenos Aires on a Friday, when they began to be followed by the news, but they still had a long way to go. Their destination was Rosario, a 4-hour bus ride from the capital.

Recently featured in the news as a city dominated by drug trafficking violence, this port city in the province of Santa Fe, the fourth most populous in the country with around 1.3 million inhabitants, is a pioneer in legal abortion rights in Argentina.

M. arrived 11 weeks and 4 days pregnant and, after a few hours of sleep, went to a private clinic that in recent years has increasingly received Brazilian women who discover their services through the internet, recommendations from acquaintances, or social projects.

With that gestational period, she qualified for what is known as IVE, voluntary interruption of pregnancy assured up to 14 weeks. Without the need to justify her reasons, a woman within this pregnancy period can access the procedure in the country.

At the Musa clinic, a few steps from the Faculty of Medicine building at the National University of Rosario, M. arrived with her boyfriend to undergo the procedure known as AMIU, manual intrauterine aspiration performed in about 20 minutes, with local anesthesia and the supervision of a doctor and a nurse.

Throughout the process, she was accompanied by Barbara Paiva, a Brazilian doctor trained in Rosario who has worked at the clinic for two years and has become a kind of reference point for all Brazilian women, especially due to language barriers. Like M., most do not speak Spanish.

Paiva translated everything the other professionals said and explained the procedure details to M. The AMIU does not affect fertility nor leaves marks. Therefore, M. was also offered the possibility of inserting an IUD (intrauterine device) after discussing all the prevention options.

She accepted, and about 15 minutes after the procedure, she left the office hand in hand with her partner, walking away after thanking and embracing the professionals.

At the end of 2020, with a sea of women wearing their green scarves outside, the Argentine Congress legalized the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy and enshrined it in law in early 2021. It was years of intense debates that gradually gained momentum to change the criminalization of the practice in the Penal Code.

Many Brazilian women are unaware of the reality faced by Argentine women. However, they gain awareness when they find themselves in distress, as happened to G., also represented only by the initial of her first name to preserve her anonymity for fear of hostility.

At 43 years old and shortly after undergoing bariatric surgery, she discovered she was pregnant with her fiancé. Already a mother of four, G. had received a clear recommendation from her doctor after having her youngest child, aged 10: getting pregnant again should not be an option. The condition of her uterus and nearby organs, after three cesarean sections, classified her pregnancy as high-risk. She sought her doctor, who confided wanting to help her have an abortion but having no alternative.

G. considered going to court, but she also feared that the process would take too long as her pregnancy progressed. Twice, she bought medicines online. The pills, fake, had no effect. Until, through a social project, she learned about conditions in Argentina and also went to the Musa clinic with 13 weeks of pregnancy, alone.

"Having to leave my country for something I understood was my right hurt me a lot," she says. "I love being a mother, I spent practically my entire adult life playing that role. But I didn't want to leave my four children orphaned," she recounts, a year after the procedure.

Prohibited for sale in Brazil, Cytotec (misoprostol), a medication used for self-managed abortion that can be done at home, continues to be sold in illegal networks. The report contacted a sales network on the Telegram messaging app.

First, they joined a group that claimed to sell the capsules. In less than a minute, they received a private message: "Hello, good afternoon, do you need help with an unwanted pregnancy?"

The administrators say this medication comes from France, assure it is genuine, ask about the gestational period, and then indicate the number of tablets. Prices range from R$ 800 to R$ 2,100. The medication arrives by mail concealed in makeup product packaging, such as loose powder.

Since 2022, the Musa clinic, operating in the private sector, has received over 1,140 women in Rosario to perform safe abortions. Of these, 301 were Brazilian, making Brazilians nearly 90% of the foreigners seeking the clinic, alongside a few Chileans and Peruvians.

It is also possible to buy misoprostol at pharmacies and perform a self-managed abortion by taking tablets at intervals over several hours. However, this requires a medical prescription. There is also the possibility, although minimal, that the medication may not work. This is why AMIU has become a common practice.

The vast majority of procedures are performed on women up to 13 weeks pregnant. But there are many other cases, less known even among Argentines. The legalization of the procedure in the 2021 law ensures that women who observe their comprehensive health at risk due to pregnancy also have the right to abortion.

The term "comprehensive" is key in this context. Although contested, it was based on the WHO's understanding that a person is healthy not only when they do not have a disease but also when their physical, mental, and social well-being are ensured. Thus, in Argentina, mental health is also taken into account.

In some Argentine regions like Rosario, "economic health" is also considered: the financial ability to support oneself and a future child, for example.

In these cases, women in more advanced stages of pregnancy can also have abortions. Now not under the umbrella of the IVE, but after talking to their doctors and often a psychologist.

This was the case for Brazilian woman J., who discovered she was pregnant at 17 weeks. She had an IUD and used condoms with her steady partner. She never wanted to be a mother. "I had a support network, friends, and a partner. I was very sure of what I wanted. Still, the worst thing is the feeling of guilt. Because of the criminalization in your home country, even in Argentina, you feel like a criminal," J. says.

Legalizing abortion in Argentina changed the reality of a country where the practice already occurred on the margins of public health. It also transformed the debate in the medical community. Even today, there are many so-called objectors: doctors who refuse to perform this procedure. Even among those who do, it is common for each to set the gestational limit until which they accept to do it.

Daniel Teppaz, a gynecologist and professor in the medicine postgraduate program at the National University of Rosario, embodies this transition in the medical community.

In the 1980s, faced with a requirement from the province of Santa Fe for doctors to report women who had abortions, he turned over to the police several women who arrived at the hospital with complications after the procedure at home.

But today, Teppaz is a reference in defending the right to abortion and helped to build the protocols in Rosario. "At that time, one to two women died every month at the hospital due to complications after abortion. When we stopped reporting them and they started seeking public health without fear, they stopped dying. I had a religious education on the topic until I understood its importance."

Deaths from causes related to abortion have decreased in Argentina since the procedure was legalized. From 50 cases in 2013, they dropped to 18 ten years later. The decline intensified from 2021, the year the law came into effect, which recorded 13 cases compared to over 23 in all previous years in the historical series, according to official figures.

Rosario discussed the issue even before it reached the national spotlight, the result of consecutive years in which its administration was in the hands of mayors who were health professionals and pro-women's rights from the Socialist Party's actions.

Receiving the report at the party's headquarters in the municipality, now national deputy Mónica Fein, mayor of Rosario from 2011 to 2019, recalls a case from 2007 when an 11-year-old girl became pregnant after rape. The Penal Code allowed abortion only for raped women deemed incapable due to some mental disorder. According to the old text, "those who were idiots or demented."

Rosario still performed the procedure on the minor. The expansion of the right to abortion for any raped woman would only be guaranteed in the country in 2012, with a Supreme Court decision.

"To prohibit abortion is simply to turn a blind eye to reality with the state's eyes," Fein says. "It seems to me that the best thing is to reduce harm."

Since 2021, the public pharmaceutical laboratory in Rosario has pioneered the production of misoprostol, making access to the medication cheaper amid an economic crisis that makes dollar imports even more difficult.

In February of this year, allies of President Javier Milei, openly against abortion rights, presented a bill to repeal the legalization of the procedure.

The bill proposes to punish women with one to three years in prison who have abortions if there is no proven risk of death. There is no scheduled date for the project to be debated.

  • For women up to the 14th week of gestation;
  • When pregnancy is the result of sexual violence, regardless of gestational age;
  • When the comprehensive health of the pregnant person is at risk, even beyond that gestational time.

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Translated by Azahara Martíon Ortega