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A year on from Argentine abortion law, change is slow

AFP

A year ago Argentina joined the limited ranks of Latin American countries to have legalized abortion, but while that gave hope to millions of women, changing mentalities, practices and infrastructure has proved more difficult.

“In small villages, you go for an ultrasound in the morning and in the afternoon the baker congratulates you on your pregnancy,” Monik Rodriguez, 33, told AFP.

Rodriguez, who has three children, runs a service accompanying women who want to have an abortion in Salta, a conservative Catholic province in the South American country.

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Away from the big city of Buenos Aires, where women erupted in celebration when the law was approved, many in more remote and conservative areas of Argentina face the same stigma as before.

“There are still things that need to come out of hiding,” said Rodriguez, who can take up to 125 telephone calls a month as part of the project launched by the Women’s Strength civil association.

“The most important thing is to listen. It’s about trying to overcome the hurdles, accompanying them through the health system so they don’t get lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth.”

Rodriguez takes calls from all sorts: teenagers and first-time mothers to women with large families and even those that are pre-menopausal.

“On this line, abortion is not recommended but neither is motherhood romanticized,” said Rodriguez, who underwent a secret abortion a decade ago when already mother to one child.

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“I was late and had an abortion. It went badly and I had to go to hospital. The tests showed I hadn’t been pregnant.

“It was the secrecy that created worry. Along with misinformation, that is what puts us at risk.”

The government estimates that 3,000 women died between 1983 and 2020 in clandestine abortions, of which there were up to 500,000 a year.

– Anti-abortion pressure –

For a century, abortion was only legal in cases of rape or if the mother’s life was at risk.

Legalization has not led to a sudden spate of abortions, particularly in places like Salta.

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Miranda Ruiz, 33, is the only doctor in Tartagal — a small town of 75,000 people in Salta — not to exercise her legal right to be a conscientious objector to carrying out abortions.

Anti-abortion groups in the town are influential.

In September, Ruiz was briefly detained following an accusation by the aunt of a 21-year-old patient that she had performed an abortion beyond the authorized limit of 14 weeks.

Feminist groups are demanding that her case be dismissed.

“It is a way of bringing the other doctors to heel,” said Sofia Fernandez, a member of the National Campaign for the Right to Abortion — a collective of 300 feminist organizations that have been fighting for 15 years for change.

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They say there are still 1,500 people facing criminal cases over abortions.

The complaint against Ruiz was the only one made in 2021, although there have been 36 court filings against the law, mostly claiming it is unconstitutional.

“Of those, 24 have already been dismissed,” said Valeria Isla, the director of sexual and reproductive health at the health ministry.

– ‘Huge inequality’ –

“There is a huge inequality in access to the practice depending on location,” said Isla.

During the course of 2021, the number of specialist medical teams carrying out abortions rose from 943 to 1,243 despite the pandemic complicating matters.

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Distribution of the drug misoprostol, which chemically provokes abortions, rose from 9,000 in 2019 to more than 43,000 in 2021.

“But there is a lot of demand and we’re not able to increase (the number of) these (teams) at the necessary rate. It’s a structural stumbling block,” added Isla.

There were more than 32,000 abortions conducted in public hospitals and clinics in 2021, said Isla, whose big goal for 2022 is to train medical teams specialized in abortions, to make their services more widely available and to inform women of their rights and the tools at their disposal.

That would help Rodriguez avoid taking calls from desperate young teenagers like one “locked in a bathroom crying … she had just dropped a home pregnancy test down the toilet and couldn’t afford to buy another one.”

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International

Russian soldier in Ukraine court for first war crimes trial

AFP

A Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine appeared in court in Kyiv on Friday ahead of the first war crimes trial since the start of the offensive.

Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was brought to court for a preliminary hearing, accused of killing an unarmed 62-year-old civilian, footage distributed by local media showed.

Shishimarin, with a shaved head, wore a grey and blue hoodie and was placed in the defendant’s box, in a video post by Ukrainian media.

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He faces possible life imprisonment on charges of war crimes and premeditated murder.

The trial marks a significant moment for Ukraine, where Russian forces have been accused of killing hundreds of civilians since the war began on February 24.  

Shishimarin is accused of firing an automatic rifle from a car window, killing the civilian to prevent him from serving as a witness to a carjacking, Ukrainian prosecutors said earlier this week.

Prosecutor Yaroslav Ushchapivskiy told privately-owned Ukrainska Pravda that Shishimarin had admitted his guilt and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

After his convoy was hit in northern Ukraine on February 28, Shishimarin joined four other fleeing soldiers and stole a car from outside the village of Chupakhivka, Ukraine says.

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The civilian, who was not named, was riding his bicycle on the side of the road not far from his home when the alleged theft took place, according to prosecutors. 

“One of the military servicemen ordered the accused to kill a civilian so that he would not report them,” according to a statement from prosector Iryna Venediktova’s office Thursday.

“The man died on the spot just a few dozen metres (yards) from his home,” it added. 

Western countries have repeatedly accused Russian troops of committing war crimes in Ukraine. 

The UN Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly on Thursday — in a session boycotted by Russia — to probe allegations of atrocities in the Kyiv, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions.

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International Criminal Court (ICC) teams are also investigating possible mass atrocities, including in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where at least 20 bodies were discovered in April. 

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International

Russia advises against travel to UK

AFP

Moscow on Friday advised its citizens against travel to the United Kingdom, citing London’s “unfriendly” stance as well as huge delays in visas for Russians.

“In order to avoid financial losses and other possible problems, we recommend that Russian citizens refrain, if possible, from travelling to the UK and trying to obtain British visas,” the Russian foreign ministry said. 

It added that it will “act in the same way” with British citizens until the situation improves.

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The ministry said it received “numerous complaints from Russian citizens that it has become virtually impossible or extremely difficult for them to obtain a UK visa” of any category. 

Britain’s visa service “gives priority to the processing of visa applications for Ukrainian refugees,” the foreign ministry in Moscow added, also pointing out that Russians are unable to pay their visa fees using Mastercard of Visa cards issued in Russia. 

The ministry said such an approach “contradicts all previously reached Russian-British agreements on consular issues” and “can only be described as a politicised infringement of the rights of Russian citizens”.

Britain has been part of an international effort to punish Russia with asset freezes, travel bans and economic sanctions, since President Vladimir Putin moved troops into Ukraine on February 24. 

On Friday, Britain announced new sanctions targeting 12 members of Putin’s “inner circle”, including Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast who the UK government said was “alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin”. 

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Zelensky says Macron talking to Putin ‘in vain’

AFP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky believes that French leader Emmanuel Macron is trying “in vain” to have a constructive dialogue with Russian President Putin, according to an interview transcript released by Kyiv Friday.

“We must not look for a way out for Russia, and Macron is doing it in vain,” Zelensky told Italian television Rai 1, according the Ukrainian president’s Telegram channel.

“I know he wanted to get results from mediation between Russia and Ukraine, but he didn’t get any,” Zelensky said. 

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Moscow, he said, would not seek any end to the fighting “until Russia itself wants and understands that it needs” this.

The Elysee told AFP on Friday that Marcon had “never discussed anything with Vladimir Putin without the agreement of President Zelensky”.

“He has always said that it is up to the Ukrainians to decide the terms of their negotiation with the Russians.”

The French leader said earlier this week that Russia and Ukraine would have to come to a negotiated truce and that peace efforts would not be served by Russia’s “humiliation”.

Zelensky said that “some European leaders think we need to find a way of talking with Putin”.

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“We have been looking for them for years. And today, these routes are littered with bodies, bodies of our people,” the Ukrainian leader added.

Zelensky however repeated his offer to speak with Putin directly but described talks with Russian as “no longer possible”. 

“Today, the stage when we could sit down with Russia has passed.”

Macron is one of the few Western leaders to speak to Putin since Moscow moved troops into Ukraine on February 24, spending hours on telephone calls trying to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.

Putin on Friday spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and insisted that Russia was fighting “Nazi ideology” in Ukraine.

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