In what’s been deemed a monumentally historic motion, Argentina’s Senate voted to legalize abortion, 38 to 29, on December 30.
While proponents of the legislation, supported by President Alberto Fernandez, argue that the legalization of abortion somehow ensures its safety, others are not so sure — especially given the implications of such a move for a country with a population that’s 92% Catholic.
While Argentinian pro-choice activists awaited news of the decision outside the Senate with signs reading “Es urgente #abortolegal” (it’s urgent — legalize abortion), there’s another urgent crisis facing women in Argentina, one that the decision to legalize abortion will not only encourage, but embolden.
Argentina’s Troubled Relationship with Trafficking
In 2020, a formal report from the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons voiced concerns over insufficient anti-trafficking prevention in Argentina, in addition to concerns over convicting fewer traffickers in recent years and “corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes.” In 2016, just four years prior, the country ranked Tier 2, meaning that by the State Department’s standards the number of victims being trafficked within the country was “very significant or is increasingly significant” but only the “minimum” standards for eliminating trafficking were reflected.
Trafficking, abuse, and abortion are inextricably, intrinsically linked.
The report also mentioned key factors that make Argentina a destination for traffickers, chief among them its geographic vantage point in relation to other South and Latin American nations and proximity to the rest of the Southern Hemisphere.
Though we traditionally think of human trafficking as sexual slavery, under Argentine law the term also encompasses “the offering, recruitment, transportation, transfer, or receipt of persons, and the exploitative purpose, namely slavery, servitude, forced labor, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and organ trafficking.”
Although there are laws in place aimed at preventing trafficking, it’s evident they accomplish little. There’s also criticism surrounding the conviction rate of traffickers, which rarely reflects the rate at which women, men, and children are being trafficked. A report from a UN independent coverage firm surmises that bribery and corruption have emboldened traffickers and strengthened their ties with police and local bureaucracy, leading to little to no punishment for the guilty parties.
Traffickers Use Abortion to Their Advantage
Fortunately, in this day and age, we’re seeing an increase in awareness of just how commonplace trafficking is. But what’s not commonly acknowledged is how prevalent abortion is, and how it’s rarely an occasion of “choice” for so many unfortunate victims.
In the Western world, we conceptualize abortion as an act made solely by the woman. In many instances, that’s simply not the case, and trafficking is a prime example.
In 2018, American pro-life organization Live Action aimed to bring awareness to this through an investigation into how abortion giant Planned Parenthood failed, time and time again, to train staff on recognizing victims of abuse and trafficking, enabling traffickers to return with their victims whenever they became pregnant.
The report, which was decried by skeptic media outlets as anti-abortion propaganda (but with no evidence to bolster that claim), is in itself shocking. The organization found that Planned Parenthood not only covered up abuses by failing to report instances of victims being subjected to abortion, but was moreover complicit in trafficking by enabling the perpetrators.
Abortion is a tool utilized to the advantage of traffickers to erase the evidence of their crimes.
Additionally, a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, focusing on gender-based abortion in China, asserts that “coerced abortion is a form of violence” against women, and that women who are victims of violence are “disproportionately represented” in women presenting for abortion.
In a separate study from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 73.8% of women admitted aborting from coercion or outside pressure. It’s natural to wonder how much of that pressure or coercion was motivated by criminal activity, and how many perpetrators were allowed to escape responsibility.
Yet another report from the Beasley Institute at Loyola University surveyed 66 trafficking survivors, who had 114 abortions among them, with two-thirds of those abortions occurring in clinics. Again, those who think that the legality of abortion somehow ensures its safety are actively ignoring the exploitation women and victims are facing at the hands of criminals, even and especially when abortion is legal.
What This Legislation Means
In Argentina, a country which as we’ve already learned has a thriving criminal sector where abuse and trafficking flourish due to corruption and complicity in law enforcement and local government, we have to wonder how much this new legislation will only exacerbate what we already know: that abortion is a tool utilized to the advantage of traffickers to erase the evidence of their crimes.
Pro-choice rhetoric often completely glosses over that coercion and pressure — and does so at the expense of victims and their further traumatization.
Another common bullet point for the pro-abortion argument is to assert that more women die, or are victimized, by carrying their pregnancy to term, instead of having the legal option to terminate. While that has been disproven, legalized abortion narratives repeatedly minimize women who have had their trauma targeted by that legality and utilized for political purposes.
In one study, 73.8% of women admitted aborting from coercion or outside pressure.
The abortion debate is so concerned with advocating for choice and rights for women that they drown out those who are unable to speak for themselves and are silenced by an industry that profits from exploitation. Trafficking, abuse, and abortion are inextricably, intrinsically linked. And in a dialogue dominated by questions of legality and choice, we fail to acknowledge that, and in doing so, we fail victims. When we can’t even have an honest discussion about how abortion obviously harms victims, how can we ever expect to help them through recovery and healing, or even condemn it as long as it’s used for profit?
While advocates celebrate the legality of abortion, they fail to examine the ripple effect it could have on an already powerful criminal agenda, which they unknowingly continue to enable.
Say what you will about abortion, it’s a contentious, politicized, divisive topic, and in sticking to those talking points alone, we do ourselves a disservice in being unable to have genuine examinations using critical thinking to unearth all the consequences.
In the celebration and commendation of Argentina’s latest decision, there were no promises or campaigns for increased awareness for trafficking victims and how this decision will impact them. If anything, this decision will allow it to thrive more than it already does.
Trafficking happens in front of our very eyes, and the wounds it leaves on its victims also occur unseen. The abortion debate happens loudly, overwhelmingly, in front of us. Once we accept how complementary these two issues are, the more genuine our dialogue becomes.