A body can be defined the way you define a territory
A body can be named the way you name an object
A body can be shared the way you share out bread
Perhaps you can say that a body is like a finite point
But the body doesn’t respond to the rules of conventions, or the rules of objects
It named as a verb, and calls itself struggle
In memory of Paola Uliarte and Jimena Gomez, two women who died as a result of Clandestine abortions in San Luis, Argentina.
Alejandra La Concha
I remember a conversation that I had with a little girl, she was nine, who came to my house once, and she came to me and said, “My sister is sixteen and she has a baby in her belly and she’s going to get rid of it, what do you think about that, are do you agree with it or not?
I am Alejandra La Concha, I am a lawyer, a mediator, a militant feminist and a social activist, and well, we’re here to talk about abortion, which is a difficult subject. It is a subject not without taboos but it is something that we ought to deal with every single day.
My name is Marcela Cortez, I am fifty-four years old. I immediately agreed to take part and tell my story because I think it is important that everyone’s voice is heard.
My name is Andrea Aguilar. I am twenty-three years old, I am a student. I currently live in Villa Mercedes. I decided to share my personal experience of abortion, due to an internal conviction that this is a story that needs to be shared so that it can be brought out of the silence, and out of the individual experience.
My name is Negro, well I call myself Negro, my parents gave me another name, but since I was very small, perhaps because of what other people called me, I called myself Negro. I have been a lecturer in the university for a long time. I am sixty-four years old, on the cusp of retirement, and well, I have always been a social activist, mainly in the area of trade unionism.
I am Lili Manili, I am a social worker, or I was until this year – or actually until last year. Anyway in 2011 I became a professor in the department of gender violence and human rights at the National University of San Juan. I am the president for the Association for Women’s Rights in San Luis (A.D.E.M)
My name is Cintia Lujan, I am thirty-two. I am an actor and a director, and I had an abortion when I was nineteen years old.
And I was left thinking, how can I explain this to her, because as adults we are very structured in the way we talk about this, saying that it is a crime, that it is a bad thing and it is very negative. Individually, although you may be an activist and have your own opinion, sometimes you don’t know how to express what you feel, what you believe, what you think. Anyway, with this girl I said to her, well let’s talk about it. I agree, I am in favour, but let’s try to look after you sister because not everyone agrees with it. When it is made public, the issue of abortion – which is a decision that a woman makes about her own body – it is condemned by society. Over and above the legal condemnation, which anyway has always been a reflection of what is socially condemned. All of the laws that are made and all the crimes that are committed take into account these social episodes, that turn into political facts which become laws. We, or at least I, always try to talk about this issue naturally, and try not to over-dramatize the issue in the terrible way that society does – which is enabled by the patriarchal system in which we live. We try to reclaim the woman as a subject, as thinking, free, and autonomous subject who can make decisions about her own body, decisions that will not harm anyone else…
I became pregnant with a boy I had been going out with for about four months. At the start I decided to have the baby, but the relationship became quite complicated and in the end it was a case of too much violence. It had been happening for a while, but it was like something was eventually triggered and one night I decided that because of the violence, I wasn’t going to continue with the pregnancy. It was like something made me realize that my life was going to be like this, and worse, all the time. I had the luck of being able to count on my mother, who supported me and accompanied me from the day I decided to have an abortion until the day of the abortion. Two weeks had passed, which complicated things a bit because the pregnancy was already quite advanced, but anyway the day of the abortion arrived, and I was in quite an emotional state, in a weak state you could say.
I had an abortion when I was twenty-two years old. It wasn’t because of a particular issue, but it was because in reality I simply didn’t feel ready to have a child at that moment in time. My partner agreed, he supported my decision, he came with me to the clinic. I wasn’t worried about what I was doing, but I was worried because I didn’t know where I was going, due to the fact that abortion isn’t legal. Bear in mind that we’re talking about thirty years ago when it was even more of a taboo than it is today. I went to a clinic in Greater Buenos Aires, which actually turned out to be a dilapidated house where I only saw one person who I presumed was a nurse. This person is the one who put me under anesthesia – a procedure as delicate as that – and when I woke up, they gave me ten minutes to get up out of the bed and leave. I left bleeding when I left, obviously, and I spent a few days feeling quite unwell without knowing who to turn to, even though as a biochemist I worked in the hospital and I had contact with health professionals. When you get to this point the whole world acts as if they don’t know you. Luckily there were no complications and afterwards I had four beautiful daughters. Not only did I recover well, I also had the possibility to become a mother, when I was ready and wanted to. In this way, I’m one of the lucky ones.
I had an abortion when I was nineteen. I became pregnant with a boy I was with at the time, because of a misuse of contraceptives due to a lack of information. I was on the pill, but I wasn’t taking it properly. I stopped taking it for a few days, on those days I ovulated, and well, I became pregnant. It took me a long time to take it in, well to take in the possibility of being pregnant. I was convinced that it wouldn’t happen, but it did, and I realized by around the fourth week that I was pregnant. The boy didn’t live in the same city as me and I told him you know, that I hadn’t had my period and that I was going to take a test. The test was negative, but I still went to my gynecologist and told him what had happened. He also thought that it was unlikely that I was pregnant. Just in case, he requested a blood test for me. I did it and it was positive, I was pregnant.
I have an experience with abortion, not mine obviously, but a partner’s. I have the experience of having supported her and you know, going through that situation, which wasn’t an easy situation at all because of everything that it means and everything that it meant, socially, that is, to make a decision like that. It is very hard to look at a woman at that moment, because as much as you say, I am by your side, I am with you, I am supporting you, it is an intrusion in her body. You can have all the solidarity and emotion and even the tears, but it is not your body. It is hers.
What I will never forget, what stays with me, is the sensation of being inside a cycle of absolute violence and abandonment. Because in fact more than the physical pain, and more than what it meant to first decide to have a child and then decide not to and all that, what was worse than that, was that the situation during the operation was like the culmination of a series of very violent events. I was able to get together the money to go, not to a hospital or a clinic, but to a doctors’ surgery. And what was really hard for me was to be in a situation where I couldn’t move a single muscle, where the pain so strong, and what’s more, the guy who did it, well, he put his hands…it felt inappropriate. I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t his intention, I don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t good. His intentions weren’t good.
I had been against abortion without really knowing why until I lived through it, until I was in the situation myself, a situation I didn’t want. A few days after I had found out that I was pregnant we went to see my gynecologist. He gave me two pills, one to take orally and one to be inserted vaginally. These pills were supposed to effective up to six or seven weeks. To this day I am not sure what drug it was, but it didn’t work, it did not terminate the pregnancy. After that everything becomes a bit blurred, because although my family knew that I was pregnant, it was very difficult to share it in a healthy way with them and to feel supported with my decision. I was already working, I was studying at a semi-private university, and I was paying my own fees. My father was out of work and even though I was living with them I didn’t earn much money. I was living with the rest of my brothers and sisters. I had never imagined having a child in a situation like that. I was completely disillusioned by the idea of becoming a mother in that situation.
I had co-workers as well, the reason being – well – we were all young, anyway some of my co-workers, interns, one of them I remember in particular, she went to the US for surgery. Clearly, she had a lot of money. Well amazing, great for her, everything was fine, it all went smoothly. Anyway I had to live with this you know, seeing these people in the hospital who had money and who had abortions with no risk attached and these women as well who had eight or nine kids and they couldn’t have another one. It wasn’t like my case, a decision, where I said that at that moment, I did not want to have a child, it was really that it was impossible for them to have another child. They would not be able to support another one. It wasn’t even like you could get a tubal ligation done in the hospital, because that was illegal as well.
Having experienced abortion, I started to search for the ways you can avoid it. As I already had children, I had a vasectomy, which is something that I’ve noticed is not seen as one of the possible ways to prevent pregnancies. The emphasis is always on the woman, or on the sexual act, but it’s not said, for example, that if you don’t want to be a father, you don’t have to be a father, and you can still have a normal, satisfying sexual life like anyone else and not run the risk of pregnancy.
I had the luck of being able to get money together to go to a place where there was practically no risk to my life. Although yes, my emotional and psychological integrity and all of that was compromised, my life wasn’t in danger. Truthfully, it was imagining or thinking about the women, or the girls, really young girls, who have to go through this situation, which is a precarious situation in every sense, with no form of sanitary precautions or doctors, a situation in which clearly, many women lose their lives, that motivated me throughout the years to try in some way to talk about this or at least put it in words.
The week that I had been to see my gynecologist I went to Córdoba without knowing very well why, and without telling anyone else. Supposedly we were going to speak to the mother of the boy I had become pregnant with. There was a possibility of seeing a doctor in Cordoba, but it was all very uncertain, and we didn’t know where we were going, or at least I didn’t know. The boy then told me, unexpectedly, that we were going to keep travelling and we were going to go to a town in the interior of Córdoba, where they knew someone who could do the abortion. I accepted this situation that was in front of me in silence. I was alone, which I think was something befitting the clandestine circumstances, as well as the silence, the not asking for too many explanations, or questioning too many things. It’s all part of it, because at the same time you are struggling with a genuine internal conflict you know?
This boy, who I had just become pregnant with, changed his attitude. He left me in the hands of his father and his older brother, who finally resolved the situation. His father was a councilor in that area, or at least he had political connections. He was a lawyer, a criminal lawyer to be precise. They took me to see a doctor, this doctor was very angry, well he treated me badly, spoke to me harshly, he was very cross. Bit by bit I understood what had happened because he started telling me – and to this day I don’t know if it was to intimidate me or because it was the truth – but he said that the governor of the area had forced him to do this abortion, and that he had been threatened that if he didn’t do it, they would expose him and report the other abortions they knew he had done.
I had an abortion without any anesthesia. It was a very violent situation for my body and for my entire emotional state. It lasted maybe forty minutes, but in terms of intensity it felt like it lasted much longer. I left place, I took a bus back to Villa Mercedes and carried on with my normal life without any extra care for my body. I took antibiotics and a couple of other things, hidden from my family, my friends, my colleagues. I didn’t tell anyone, well I told very few people that I had had an abortion, and very few others asked me. I had simply been pregnant, and now I was not.
In Argentina, the voluntary interruption of pregnancy is considered a crime against life since the creation of the penal code in 1886. For decades, women have campaigned for better and wider access to life and healthcare. The National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion is a broad and diverse federal alliance.
As far as we, the members of A.D.E.M, are concerned we think the National Campaign is very important, and very valuable. We know the large number of abortions that are carried out, and we know the risk that is attached, especially for poor women, for those who don’t have access to social services, who don’t have sufficient income to pay for a safe and secure abortion, because right now the price of an abortion is fluctuating between 3,500 and 5,000 pesos. (around 500-800 euros in 2013) These are the latest economic figures we have with respect to abortion. We also know that there are private health institutions in the provinces that are providing abortions and making quite a bit of money by doing so.
I am a biochemist, I have been studying biology for a long time. Even before working in this department, it was a topic that I was passionate about, the origin of life. And truthfully, in the moment that I was having the abortion I was aware about what I was doing. And I didn’t see it as a crime. The pro-lifers talk about life being present, but that doesn’t mean that there is a person there
Every single day, independently of social status, of religion, of the culture you live in, abortions happen. What happens is that well, despite all the issues of legal status that we are surrounded by, there are hidden issues, but every single day induced abortions happen, not just spontaneous abortions, induced abortions. They happen in different circumstances, it could be that the mother can’t have a child because of economic reasons, or because of a personal decision not to be a mother, or because of a situation that they are going through, or because they feel alone.
To de-criminalize abortion is to stop criminalizing it. I think that it will generate a really important social impact. There is a huge difference, the fact is that now, women die and have to suffer various situations caused by clandestine abortions. If it is decriminalized, they will be able to go to the hospital, be supported, have access to a doctor – a real doctor who knows how to perform the procedure – and as well as that have sanitary precautions, the basics, so that their lives are cared for while they make a personal decision that is not going to affect your life.
By pre-judging and having all these prejudices and all of this, we forget to listen to the other person, and a woman who is going through an abortion, who is about to make the decision to induce an abortion, she needs to be listened to. And it’s about time that the civil servants, the members of parliament, our representatives, listen to the women, and listen to pay more attention to them, rather that the muddle of social, cultural and religious issues surrounding us.
As a male I think that women are equal to men and are the absolute owners of their souls and their selves, including obviously their bodies. Everything that is inside her, is hers.
I lost a daughter when she was two years old in a traffic accident, so I know what it is to lose a child. An abortion is not losing a child. Like, come on, an abortion is deciding to stop a biological process in its early stages, way before a person is created. When the pro-lifers display these images of a baby that says “Mama, I want to live”, please, show a morula or a blastula, show what really cells are. Let the people make an informed decision, and after that if it’s a question of belief, if a catholic decides not to have an abortion, that’s fine! Everyone has to deal with their own beliefs but allow the people to at least have the facts.
One last reflection, that also comes from the experience of the Association, is that when people access information, real, scientific, serious information about the risks facing women who have abortions in precarious conditions, that put not only their future health but also their lives at risk, they change their position and they accept and even support the legalization of abortion, and above all the way that the National Campaign has formulated the issue.
When the issue of legalization comes up, it becomes a personal issue that we must all confront individually, all of us who are in this struggle, because sometimes we say we’ll do it but we don’t. And as well we have to talk about it, because this is another mistake we make sometimes, we try to do really big things, grand actions with multitudes of people, and in reality, we have to start small, we have to go and listen to women and support them as well as we can, and that’s what we are doing in this struggle and if the law passes, we can do it publicly.
Today I don’t want to avoid thinking about how many of us there are, whose bodies have experienced that clandestine world. Mine, hers, potentially everyone’s. Women everywhere cry “Motherhood is not a destiny”
At home, with Oxaprost, or at a surgery. I decide
Preventing deaths with legal abortion
Preventing abortion with available contraception
This body is mine. Don’t touch it. Don’t rape it. Don’t kill it.
And don’t leave it.