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Date: Sun, 22 Mar 98 12:25:35 CST
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ARGENTINA: Must Women be Mothers?
Article: 30642
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.15825.19980323125419@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 517.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-ARGENTINA: Must Women be Mothers? **
** Written 3:14 PM Mar 20, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Must Women be Mothers?

By Marcela Valente, IPS, 17 March 1998

BUENOS AIRES, March 17 (IPS) - Despite the advance on all fronts made by women in the past decades, the adage persists in most Latin American countries that a woman must be a mother. This belief has has hindered womens rights in such areas as sex education, contraceptives and safe abortions.

This is how Mabel Bianco explains it in her book Fertility, Health and Poverty in Latin America.

Bianco, the president of the Foundation for Research on Women says there an unwritten law that says that women must become mothers, and therefore they do not need to think about restricting the number of children. Nor must they postone the decision to have them, or interrupting an unwanted pregnancy under safe conditions, she says.

The other side of this phenomenon, which is associated with poverty, is the increasing number of middle-and upper-class women who are demanding technologies for assisted fertilization - in some cases at ages that are beyond the natural one for pregnancy, she added.

In 1997, there were 2,500 cases of donor insemination, in-vitro fertilization and other methods of assisted reproduction, compared to one thousand cases five years ago, according to the Argentine Society on Sterility and Fertility.

Women have advanced enormously in the workplace, in politics and in the economic sphere; but they remain caught in a rigid model that assumes that they must be mothers. And that often results in a real health trap, notes Bianco.

Voluntary abortions are the first cause of maternal deaths in Argentina. Every year, there are 335,000 to 400,000 abortions, and for every two full-term pregnancies, there is one that ends in abortion, according to a study by the Forum for Reproductive Rights. But abortion is is still illegal, and takes place clandestinely. Women who have the resources pay doctors in order to undergo a safe intervention, but poor women must resort to home methods which, om one-third of the cases end in death.

Women's organizations are demanding the decriminalization of abortion, but until now no political party is supporting them. Nor have they been able to obtain a law that guarantees sexual education or free access to contraceptive methods in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

The House of Representatives approved draft legislation requiring that public hospitals provide information on contraceptive methods and their free distribution to poor women. But the initiative was blocked in the Senate last year by the ruling party, which questioned the inclusion of the intra-uterine device (IUD) among the recommended methods.

Opponents of the legislation argued that the IUD was abortive, despite medical explanations to the contrary. They also rejected an article of the law which allowed for the free distribution of the contraceptives to minors. Lawmakers argued that parental authorization should be a requirement, and the debate was stalled.

There is a real legal vacuum regarding this issue. This lack of legislation places Argentina among the last countries in the world in terms of policies for responsible procreation, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund conducted in 1996.

The U.S. first lady, Hillary Clinton, when she visited this country with husband President Bill Clinton in 1997, recommended that women push forward their programs for family planning in order to decrease the numbers of abortions and maternal deaths.

Argentina is the Latin American country with the highest number of women in Parliament; women are the majority among medical students, and the number of female-headed households is growing. But issues of reproductive health are still taboo, given age-old cultural norms.

Besides the cultural mandate that requires women to become mothers, there is the other problem of people in positions to make decisions on women's health policies that think that the market can resolve everything. So they are leaving poor women to their own devices, says Bianco.

In addition, the contradiction between poor women who are risking their lives with unsafe abortions, and those who are demanding expensive reproductive technologies, distorts the role of doctors, who are now beginning to be more concerned about training and developing techniques to assist those who can pay for reproductive health.

In the end, the underlying ideas of those in charge of formulating public health policies, according to Bianco, seems to be that those who can pay for contraception, safe abortions and expensive reproductive technologies, can do so, while the others the poor must risk their lives if they do not want to be mothers.