On abortion and interruptions

By Verónica Gago

The first time that Rosenberg wrote about abortion was in 1969, for the newspaper of the CGT de los Argentinos (General Confederation of Labor of the Argentines). The final text included in the book is from 2019, the prologue of another book: Martes Verdes Federal. This maps a trajectory, a whole life, or, as she prefers, a ritornello. That is the musical figure with which she identifies the rhythm of her writing. The ritornello refers to a repetition but it also designates the silence that allows the voice to return to give it air. In philosophy, that conceptual image accounts for the creation of a territory in which, through the creation of landscapes, of back and forths, that ultimately assembles a space with things can both happen and pass through.

We meet during the holiday weekend before the week of agitation for abortion begins, in preparation for the vote in the House of Deputies. She had not been leaving her house, she tells me, during the pandemic, but last Friday she could not contain her desire to go out to the plaza and, taking all the necessary precautions, she was there. As we sit at the bar, a green poster calling for an end to the clandestine character of abortions with the drawing of a coat hanger flashes in the background. Those posters line the streets of Buenos Aires. “Today abortion has been instituted as a political and theoretical issue like never before,” she says with certainty in each one of the words.

A Community to Survive

“I think that we built a sort of community, in the Campaign and in the movement, to sustain these years of struggle through our stubbornness. That community was our way of surviving,” she narrates – before starting her coffee – weaving together the story of the origins of this experience that is now known around the world. She talks about what led up to it, but also reflects on how, during this 2020, in the midst of the crisis intensified by the pandemic, we have insisted that abortion is urgent, in the midst of the state of exception created by the health crisis.

Rosenberg has been listening to the parliamentary debate online over the past few days. She feels that the anti-rights rhetoric has been rekindled and has sharpened its offensive in comparison with its performance in 2018. “The years since then have not been just any years. There has been an enormous intensification of the economic and social crisis. It is something that we have to keep examining in order to understand its true magnitude,” she signals. She feels that the debate about the normality ended too quickly, the normality that is longed for and that we also seek to disassemble and challenge. “The pandemic has opened up a profoundly unprecedented situation and we cannot only rely on what we hear close to us,” she remarks.

Her book is over 500 pages long. Even so, she confesses that she always felt that she was writing on the margins. She says that by speaking of feminism, she was always left out of the sphere of psychoanalysis. And in feminist environments, when she would write essays seeking to integrate the psychoanalytic point of view, they would always make her feel like she was crossing a line. Now it is different. Or, better yet: “only now are people starting to listen to certain things that I have been raising for a long time.”

The autobiography, that in this case, is also a political testimony, insists on key words: reproducing is not the same as generating, because one alludes to repetition and the other term places its trust in transmitting a dynamic of movement and transformation, Rosenberg argues. Interruption (a key word for thinking about the multiple dimensions of abortion) and the insistence that pushes toward a becoming, she says, is a work of time, which insists on the enunciation of a truth that mobilizes the desire to act. Abortion is interruption, she argues, because it is a counter-hegemonic practice, that changes gestation and the regulation of reproduction (heterosexual reproduction of the family), it interrupts the destiny mandated for women and gives new meanings to relationships and desire, one’s understanding of one’s self.

Assemblies, Workshops, and Little Tables

“The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2002 was very important for me. There we started forging a new convergence. There were the well-known feminist activists, who had done great work in the Cairo Declaration (1994), such as Gina Vargas and Sonia Correa, but there were also those who were pushing for an articulation within Mercosur and, especially, of contemporary social movements. Furthermore, Brazil was a place where feminists had carried out very important work in relation to the single health system and the CUT (Unified Workers’ Central) was also present. What I am trying to say is that an act of consonance was assembled there, articulating the critique of traditional political representation along with the force of social movements against neoliberalism. We were at the height of “They all must go!” I think that that was when there was a densification of the forms of movements that have to do with creating networks and transversality. You have to remember that in that moment, for example, it was very difficult to get signatures from important male leaders. They did not consider abortion to be a significant issue.”

There is a photographic dossier at the end of Rosenberg’s book that starts with a photo that shows six Mothers of Plaza de Mayo from behind as they walk toward the Casa Rosada, with their white handkerchiefs around their necks. They are all bundled up, the photos are in black and white. That photo illustrates an article that Rosenberg published in the newspaper La Razón in 1986 titled “Who are the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo?” The photo that closes the pages is one of Rosenberg herself, also from behind, with a green handkerchief above her head, not around her neck, but raised and extended between her arms (photographed by Graciela de Valle). The photograph is from the pañuelazo on February 19, 2020 (how difficult it is to associate that action with this year of the pandemic). In the foreground you can see her hair tied back in small braids that maintain her characteristic gray bun that associates her look with that of the suffragettes of the previous century.

“Many of us feminists participated in the neighborhood assemblies after 2001 and in the assembly of assemblies, call the Interasamblearia that would meet in Parque Centenario. That was where Dora (Coledesky) proposed holding an assembly for the right to abortion. Mabel (Belluci) and I, and, I suppose, others, had also been raising the issue in our assemblies. We started meeting in the Matrix space, on Entre Ríos Avenue. That is where the idea emerged of going to the Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Gathering – ENM) that was in Rosario that year to propose an assembly. I had been in a seminar on “strategies for the right to abortion” in South Africa in 2000 and the following year María Alicia (Gutiérrez) was there. We translated and circulated a book with that same title. In fact, in Rosario, along with the initial assembly, we also held “workshops on strategies for the right to abortion.” One of the conclusions from that assembly was the recommendation to assemble a National Federal Campaign to unify the different existing groups. In 2004, a preparatory meeting was held in the Social Sciences Faculty of the UBA [University of Buenos Aires], before the ENM in Mendoza and in 2005, the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe, and Free Abortion was consolidated in Cordoba. For our first action, we recuperated the tradition of the Commission for the Right to Abortion of putting little tables on street corners and collecting signatures: we would talk to people, it was like doing workshops on the street,” she recalls. Reconstructing the steps, the connections, contingencies and strategic decisions is part of the history of retroactively reading what finally accumulates into an experience and is deployed as feminist methodologies. “Everything that seems obvious – from putting together a workshop to choosing the name of the campaign – was something that took an enormous work of militancy” she affirms.

Constant Growth

Her book is a history manual, a psychoanalytic treatise, a travel diary that recounts conferences and protests, and also the kitchen where a political experience was cooked up, which first formed a national campaign and, a few years later, an international one. There is no linearity in that autobiography, as episodes that would explain a line of succession crowned by a final realization. There is a vindication of “lived” experiences and analyses, embodying an analysis and turning writing into direct action. Those could be the photo-epigraphs of the images at the end of the book. For example, the photo of the Ni Una Menos March in June 2019, in which Rosenberg walks along with Elsa Schvartzman and Nina Brugo behind an enormous banner or the already historic postcard of Rosenberg and Dolores Fenoy dancing to the chant “the patriarchy is going to fall, it’s going to fall,” on March 8, 2019, or another famous photograph with the two of them and Dora Barrancos and Nelly Minyersky.

How would you definite the key of the Campaign’s political organization?

From the beginning, our definition was its federal character, participatory democracy, and pluralism of all types. That is also where the comprehensive nature of our demand originates, embodied in the slogan “Sex ed to decide, contraceptives to not abort, legal abortion to not die.” We organized ourselves through annual plenary sessions to define the main lines of action. But as we started growing, this turned into a source of tension, especially when political parties became involved, which presuppose other methodologies. The other important definition was the parliamentary strategy. From the beginning we said that we needed a law and since 2007 we have presented our own IVE (Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy) bill.

In the meantime, autonomous practices also grew. How did they impact the Campaign’s demand?

Yes, I think it has to do with a combination of several issues. On one hand, parliamentary rigidity. That is, we had an increasing number of signatures from representatives of the majoritarian parties, but, at the same time, the executive branch refused to move toward legalization.  On the other hand, there were the contacts and experiences that we started learning about from other parts of the world and the funds obtained. For example, with the experience in Brazil with misoprostol, there were exchanges with feminists from Ecuador and from the Dutch organization Women on the Waves that promoted abortion with pills. And there was also the lesbian radicalization. I remember meetings with Verónica Marzano and Sonia Gonorazky when they decided to leave the Campaign and launch a free and safe information line.

When and why did the moments of growth occur?

At the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016, with the expansion of grassroots participation, the push by the different networks that make up the campaign (health care professionals, teachers, photographers, etc.). And later with the confluence in 2016, when the slogan NiUnaMenosPorAbortoClandestino [Not One Less due to Clandestine Abortion]. And, of course, then the expansion of virtual networks and the internationalization of feminism that starts to occur from here. I think that this demonstrated the political latency and potency of a movement that integrates and expands. Additionally, there is also an intergenerational element that is key here.

That is what finally explodes in 2018.

Yes, and it implies the presence of other political logics. Other forms of communication and other uses of symbols. For example, glitter, that is a mystery to me. We still need to investigate how changes intrude, like tectonic layers that make small imperceptible movements and then change everything. But everything changes because countless displacements had been accumulating.

For example, the displacement involved in speaking of gestating bodies…

Yes, although it is clear that LGBTQI+ activism was always involved in the Campaign, from the very beginning, with important figures such as Lohana Berkins and Diana Sacayan. To me it seems good to add and not substitute, and say women and gestating bodies, to keep with the idea that what is not named does not exist and nourish the expansion of the movement’s diversity.

How do you feel that the mass debate about abortion has changed definitions and perceptions of maternity?

I always say that maternity is a right and not an obligation. And that all people have a right to be born from a desire that accompanies the act of gestation. The right to abortion qualifies the decisions of maternity as an enriching ethical choice, and not as the avoidance of a punishment, the stigma and burden of a sociocultural and religious imposition. The state must protect the comprehensive health of women and people with the capacity to gestate and that means providing the means and conditions to make free decisions about their life projects. The criminalization of abortion is a punishment for practicing sexuality with non-reproductive purposes, the rejection of women’s right to sexual pleasure constructed in the hegemonic heteropatriarchal order. And their abandonment in cases when sexist violence is prolonged in pregnancy.

What do you think happens next, what does our near future hold?

I am very hopeful. I see that the intersectional forms that I was always interested in are becoming real. For me, the debates in feminism cannot be reduced to a subjective question, but neither to solely economic or political dimensions. And today all of that is being analyzed together, it is understood and experienced simultaneously. I think that there is a very interesting elaboration that is occurring, as I said at the beginning, that abortion is being installed in an unprecedented way, as a search for autonomy, as it is today, as an essential component for a livable democracy.



Verónica Gago teaches political science at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and is professor of sociology at the Instituto de Altos Estudios, Universidad Nacional de San Martín. This article first appeared at Página 12. Translation by Liz Mason-Deese.