Following the rejection by the Argentine Senate of the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Bill on August 9, movements that were in the thick of the campaign are looking at a new phase of struggles, as well as analyzing the past few months and the challenges ahead. In the light of this, Marcha Noticias interviewed Celeste Mac Dougall, a teacher and a member of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion, who says: “I never imagined that we were going to be fighting for the right to abortion in the Congress with this extent of mobilization”.
What does the social, political and legal process of the debate over the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Bill mean for Argentina and for Our America as a whole?
The debate over the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Bill in Argentina led to and is leading to deeper discussions about everything. From sexual intercourse and the kind of consensual relationships we have, to whether we choose our maternity, whether it is an imposition or is something desired, many issues have been debated. Discussions have also taken place on the links with violence in general and the role of women in the processes of transformation and change. For the region too, it has been a process of opening up a debate that was purely Argentine and it has had an impact in areas where abortion is clandestine and illegal. The use of the green scarf (a popular symbol of the pro-abortion protests) in many countries represents that organization and activists not only support our struggle but are also taking on the struggle for legal abortion in their own countries.The use of the scarf stands for the fact that the feminist struggle has no boundaries.
How do we see victory and defeat in this context, if it is valid to think about the issue in those terms?
The term defeat is valid because we were in a fight and we are still in it. But this doesn’t mean that they have won over us in every way. It is not a permanent defeat; we are fighting against institutions that have possessed, for thousands and thousands of years, the control over our bodies, our decisions and our lives. So, it is a very strong power that is in front of us and we have been equipping ourselves to fight it. And if the struggle for the right to abortion implies questioning everything, this fight is not going to be easy either. Because those on the other side also understand that everything is being questioned. The possibility of a victory empowers other struggles and will lead to other victories. That is why they resorted to every possible avenue to stop our advance. That is also why we continue campaigning and struggling. They are not going to stop us just because this defeat occurred.
On the other hand, they remain the winners because they continue to control our bodies and our lives. And we will continue to lose to the extent that there is no possibility of taking decisions about our bodies and because our lives are at stake. We are going to continue losing women. We are going to keep losing in decisions and freedoms. But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep fighting.
What lessons do we take away from this historic moment?
We are in the midst of a very important process that has provided many opportunities for us – from understanding how to organize a great mobilization, to educating ourselves in disciplines that we didn’t study. This is also a chance to understand that the only way in which consensus can be built is democratically and horizontally and by being respectful of differences. We need to work on what unites us and brings us together with the understanding that there are no activists or leaders but only us, who are formulating arguments, mechanisms of struggle and ways to ensure the participation of all.
What is the path ahead? As movement, as a campaign, as protagonists of actions and in terms of strategies for social change…
Questioning everything. This process is not going to be stopped by this defeat; it will continue. For example, in the use of the scarf there is a fundamental ethic, and a persistence that will not end just because we have suffered this defeat. Rather, it is the other way around, and we are analyzing other laws that have gone through a similar process.
We will continue to fight but from another place, as this struggle has completely occupied our lives. It has been a great learning process that will serve us for the coming struggles. All this was not long ago – just a month and a half has passed– and one has to see the ups and downs, not only the struggles and the situation in general, but also what is happening to one through that prism.
Some of us faced demands and exposure that have nothing to do with what we do every day. Because while we are a movement and a campaign that brings together 500 organizations, there are bodies, there are minds, feelings, realities and expectations put on women. I never imagined that we were going to be fighting for the right to abortion in Congress with this extent of mobilization. I think nobody expected it and it was the biggest feminist mobilization in history.
Original text by Laura Salomé Canteros of Marcha Noticias.