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Challenging the Argentine Gender Regime? The Politics of Reproductive Rights After Democratization
Unformatted Document Text:  to the family and no family-planning policies were introduced. After a long period of institutional and democratic instability, the national state’s involvement in this issue was more evident in strong authoritarian views on population policies, a tendency particularly pronounced during the military dictatorship of the 1970s. In 1974 President Isabel Perón issued decree 659/74, which prohibited any activity related to reproductive control, such as the commercialization of contraception in pharmacies, and launched national campaigns ‘to publicize the risks’ associated with the use of medical contraception. In 1977, the military dictatorship issued decree 3.938 “Objetivos y Políticas Nacionales de Población”, which included the elimination of all activities involving the promotion of fertility control. Following the recommendations of the National Council of Demographic Policies (Consejo Nacional de Políticas Demográficas), the military regime of President Videla issued another executive decree to prevent infant mortality and prohibit any practice related to medical contraception. Activities related to family planning were cancelled “for reasons of national security” based on a geopolitical diagnosis of hypothetical military conflicts with neighboring countries and the need to increase the Argentine population. (Torrado 2004) In this period, Argentina declined to take part in international surveys of fertility and the use of contraception. In 1974, at the Bucharest Conference of Population, Argentine representatives denounced international interventions in domestic affairs, principally from the interests of the United States. Thus, Argentina followed a politics of isolation vis-à-vis international standards and procedures. These decisions had a strong impact on the poor, increasing the socioeconomic gap in the fertility rate and the access to health services. Abortion in Argentina has always been a controversial issue, but the debate was traditionally limited to constitutionalists. Paradoxically, Argentina was one of the first countries in the world and the first in the region to introduce ‘eugenic abortion’ in its civil and penal codes. (Htun 2003) Abortion is permitted in cases of medical necessity and rape, including the presumed rape of mentally handicapped women. In her book of abortion politics in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, Mala Htun (2003) explained two main motivations that accompanied the regulation of Argentine abortion in the Penal Code. First, there was the need to include ‘compassionate’ abortion to “…shield women from the anguish of mothering the children of men who had sexually assaulted them” (Htun 2003, 145). The second motivation was eugenics “…to avoid the birth of physically or mentally handicapped children”. (Htun 2003, 145) Indeed, in the first decades of the twentieth century, ideas about eugenics were persistent in the southern cone of South America. In Argentina, since 1922, when abortion was included in the Penal Code, art.86 has remained controversial and abortion continues to be a matter of constitutional debate. The concept of reproductive rights did not exist until it became part of the international agenda during the Conference of Cairo (1994) and reassured by the women’s movement in Beijing (1995). At that time in Argentina, abortion and family-planning were framed, not as health issues or women’s 7

Authors: Lopreite, Debora.
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to the family and no family-planning policies were introduced. After a long period of institutional 
and democratic instability, the national state’s involvement in this issue was more evident in 
strong authoritarian views on population policies, a tendency particularly pronounced during the 
military dictatorship of the 1970s.   
In 1974 President Isabel Perón issued decree 659/74, which prohibited any activity 
related to reproductive control, such as the commercialization of contraception in pharmacies, 
and launched national campaigns ‘to publicize the risks’ associated with the use of medical 
contraception. In 1977, the military dictatorship issued decree 3.938 “Objetivos y Políticas 
Nacionales de Población”, which included the elimination of all activities involving the promotion 
of fertility control. Following the recommendations of the National Council of Demographic 
Policies (Consejo Nacional de Políticas Demográficas), the military regime of President Videla 
issued another executive decree to prevent infant mortality and prohibit any practice related to 
medical contraception. Activities related to family planning were cancelled “for reasons of national 
security” based on a geopolitical diagnosis of hypothetical military conflicts with neighboring 
countries and the need to increase the Argentine population. (Torrado 2004)  In this period, 
Argentina declined to take part in international surveys of fertility and the use of contraception. In 
1974, at the Bucharest Conference of Population, Argentine representatives denounced 
international interventions in domestic affairs, principally from the interests of the United States. 
Thus, Argentina followed a politics of isolation vis-à-vis international standards and procedures. 
These decisions had a strong impact on the poor, increasing the socioeconomic gap in the fertility 
rate and the access to health services. 
Abortion in Argentina has always been a controversial issue, but the debate was 
traditionally limited to constitutionalists. Paradoxically, Argentina was one of the first countries in 
the world and the first in the region to introduce ‘eugenic abortion’ in its civil and penal codes. 
(Htun 2003) Abortion is permitted in cases of medical necessity and rape, including the presumed 
rape of mentally handicapped women. In her book of abortion politics in Argentina, Chile and 
Brazil, Mala Htun (2003) explained two main motivations that accompanied the regulation of 
Argentine abortion in the Penal Code. First, there was the need to include ‘compassionate’ 
abortion to “…shield women from the anguish of mothering the children of men who had sexually 
assaulted them” (Htun 2003, 145). The second motivation was eugenics “…to avoid the birth of 
physically or mentally handicapped children”. (Htun 2003, 145) Indeed, in the first decades of the 
twentieth century, ideas about eugenics were persistent in the southern cone of South America.  
In Argentina, since 1922, when abortion was included in the Penal Code, art.86 has 
remained controversial and abortion continues to be a matter of constitutional debate. The 
concept of reproductive rights did not exist until it became part of the international agenda during 
the Conference of Cairo (1994) and reassured by the women’s movement in Beijing (1995). At 
that time in Argentina, abortion and family-planning were framed, not as health issues or women’s 
 
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