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Argentina: Guarantee Women's Access to Health Care

Slack Implementation and Lack of Oversight Causes Suffering and Death


Thousands of women and girls in Argentina suffer needlessly every
year because of negligent or abusive reproductive health care, Human
Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 53-page report, "Illusions
of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina
documents the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the
reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as
contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after
rape. The most common barriers to care include long delays in providing
services, unnecessary referrals to other clinics, demands for spousal
permission contrary to law, financial barriers, and in some cases
outright denial of care.

"Women need dependable care throughout their reproductive lives,"
said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "But
in Argentina, it's more like a lottery: you might be lucky enough to get
decent care but you are more likely to be stuck with deficient - or
even abusive - services."

As a direct result of these barriers, women and girls in Argentina
often cannot make independent decisions about their health, and many
face unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies as a result. Forty percent of
pregnancies in Argentina end in abortions, which are often unsafe.
Unsafe abortion has been the leading cause of maternal mortality in the
country for decades.

The report identifies a lack of oversight and accountability for
carrying out existing laws and policies as the main problems in the
persistent denial of proper care. Doctors and other medical personnel
who deny women services to which they are entitled, or who apply
arbitrary conditions for receiving the services, rarely - if ever - are
investigated or penalized.

"Argentina's reproductive health policies are certainly not perfect,
but if they were implemented they would prevent quite a lot of the
suffering I saw in researching for this report," Vivanco said. "The
government needs to put a lot more effort into monitoring how these
policies are carried out and punishing abuse."

Human Rights Watch's report also criticizes Argentina's reproductive
health policies for ignoring key constituencies such as women and girls
with disabilities. With its recent ratification of the Convention on
the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Argentina has taken on specific
international obligations in this area that are not being met, Human
Rights Watch said.

"Women and girls with disabilities face all the same barriers as
women without disabilities, and then some," Vivanco said. "Apart from
straight-up access issues - are there ramps at clinics, or is
information translated into Braille or sign language, for example -
there is a larger question of prejudice. Some doctors just don't think
women with visual or hearing disabilities, have sexual relationships or
can remember to take their contraception."

The Argentine government has recently taken steps to remedy some of
the issues highlighted in "Illusions of Care," though some of the policy
changes were later retracted. In May, the National Health Ministry
created a free call-in number to answer questions about where to find
reproductive health care services and register complaints. In July, the
ministry announced its intention to make sure that abortions are
carried out for women and girls whose lives or health are threatened by
their pregnancies, or who have been raped. The day after the
announcement, however, the government retracted its statements, noting
that it did not intend to guarantee access after all.

"The Argentine government seems to be slowly waking up to the notion
that laws on reproductive health mean nothing unless they are enforced,"
Vivanco said. "But unless changes are constant and clear, women and
girls will continue to suffer and, in some cases, die."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.