Why are Reproductive Rights so Contentious in the US and Argentina? 

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In the ninth episode of Democracy in Question?’s second season, Shalini Randeria is joined by activists Katha Pollitt and Tamara Tenenbaum for an urgent conversation on reproductive rights in democracies around the world.

Currently, there is considerable political mobilization and legal contention around reproductive rights in many democracies around the world. In the US, a rollback of these rights has been underway over the past decades. The Supreme Court is likely to (re)consider its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. In contrast, women’s rights activists have made progress on reproductive rights elsewhere in the world.

Only a few months ago, Argentina legalised abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy. In this ninth episode of Democracy in Question?’s second season, IWM Rector and AHCD Director Shalini Randeria is joined by Katha Pollitt and Tamara Tenenbaum to compare and contrast the experience in their societies. They discuss what the current struggles, setbacks, and victories mean for the future of reproductive rights around the world.

Speaking about the US, Pollitt notes that “it’s going to be a mixed picture”: “12 states that have already passed legislation saying if Roe is overturned, abortion is illegal here. [On the other hand] there are some states, for example New York and California, that have moved in a more pro-choice direction by putting abortion rights in the state constitution”.

Tenenbaum explains that, in Argentina, the challenge lies in applying the law that has legalized abortion: “[As opposed to the US] provinces are not allowed to make their own laws, but they can make it very difficult for it to be applied through consensus objections [which is] the right a doctor has to refuse to perform any kind of procedures they are not in favor of”. In an unequal country, this will disproportionately impact “poor women who live in the most conservative provinces far from the big cities. They will have a very hard time getting what we call an illegal but safe abortion”.


Katha Pollitt is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow, poet, political columnist, and personal essayist.

Tamara Tenenbaum is an Argentinian poet and journalist who teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.

Shalini Randeria is the Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Rector of the Institute of Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna and Excellence Chair, University of Bremen (Research Group: Soft Authoritarianism).


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