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Women’s access to health care in Argentina

In a new report just published, ‘Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina’, Human Rights Watch highlights the obstacles faced by many women and young girls in accessing the health care to which they’re entitled in Argentina.

The report documents how many women face long delays, unnecessary referrals, requests for a husband’s approval (contrary to the law), financial barriers and in certain instances denial of care when they seek contraception, sterilization or termination of pregnancies after rape or where medical concerns for the mother’s safety exist.

Because the health care response for women is so uncertain, many decide to take matters into their own hands and opt for illegal and unsafe abortions. There are an estimated 500,000-700,000 illegal abortions carried out each year. A recent study by the United Nations Population Fund found that over the last 15 years, complications arising from such abortions were the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina. For every 100,000 live births, 44 deaths are recorded, a rate which is twice as high as neighbouring Chile and Uruguay. And many more deaths may go unrecorded.

The Argentine Under-Secretary of Community Health admitted that the healthcare system could be improved to reduce maternal deaths. Currently there are problems with blood supplies, detecting cases of high blood pressure in pregnant women and implementing faster treatment for infections and abortion-related complications.

After a vote by the Congress of Argentina to legalise same-sex marriage, many feel it’s time for a debate on the legalisation of abortion. At the very least, critics expect further clarification of the current legislation, which permits abortion in the cases of rape, where the mother’s life is at risk or if the woman is “of feeble mind”. In one high profile case earlier this year, a teenage girl who was made pregnant by her stepfather, was forced to wait 20 weeks before she was finally given permission to end the pregnancy.

If the country’s high maternal mortality rates are to be lowered, there needs to be a much better understanding of how the current laws should be implemented, as well as improved access to contraception, pregnancy monitoring and emergency abortions. Human Rights Watch has also identified in its report that medical personnel who deny women the proper care should be investigated or penalized. Without better enforcement of the current laws, it is likely that women and girls will continue to suffer and in some cases die unnecessarily.

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