Because she is fueling the abortion debate with campaigns for contraception and sex ed.
Argentine Deputy Carla Pitiot believes in leveling the playing field for women. She has fought workplace harassment and the gender pay gap, campaigned for shared parental leave and criticized the Catholic Church for its stance on contraception. But in one respect she stands out from the women’s rights crowd: She is staunchly opposed to abortion.
The abortion debate has divided Argentina as it could become the biggest country in Latin America to broadly legalize abortion. Currently, abortion is legal only when there is a risk to the life or health of the mother or in cases of rape. A bill last year to allow abortion up to 14 weeks for any reason passed the lower House but was voted down in the Senate. (The bill encompassed anybody who could become pregnant, to include trans and nonbinary people.) A bill this year was put on ice ahead of October’s national elections — but advocates believe it’s likely to pass under the next president.
Pitiot was one of 49 female deputies to vote against legal abortion last year. Yet, she identifies as a feminist, a situation she recognizes as putting her at odds with many Argentine feminists. “I’ve often been asked, am I not a strange creature, a strange case for someone who feels she’s feminist?” she says. We’re talking in a cultural center a couple of blocks from Argentina’s National Congress. The 46-year-old Pitiot has been moderating a debate about barriers and challenges for women in the workforce, organized by Asociacíon del Personal de los Organismos de Control APOC, the trade union she works for. She is voluble and animated, especially on the subject of workplace harassment and sexism.
Pitiot emerged as a prominent figure in the abortion debate as a deputy for the city of Buenos Aires in the centrist Frente Renovador (Renewal Front) party, a position she’s held since 2015. But she is not running for reelection and will return to her advocacy and work with the trade union full-time.
Pitiot’s path was inspired by her two politically engaged parents. She grew up in the Patagonian city of Trelew, 850 miles from Argentina’s capital. During her childhood, Argentina was ruled by a violent military dictatorship that banned the Peronist party her father was a member of; Pitiot recalls being taken to clandestine meetings of men smoking and talking politics when she was a child. Her father, Jorge Pitiot, would later serve as a deputy.
After graduating from high school, Pitiot moved to Buenos Aires to study law at the University of Salvador, followed by a postgraduate course at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. In 1994, she got a job in Argentina’s General Audit Office. Soon after, she joined APOC, a union for workers in regulatory bodies. Some of Pitiot’s colleagues were working with the global trade union federation Public Services International, and she was drawn into the women’s movement after hearing about it in other countries.
As APOC’s secretary for equal opportunities and treatment, Pitiot helped design a protocol for addressing workplace violence, including gender violence, which was implemented in several public institutions.
She has fought for longer maternity leave and is pushing for it to be reclassified as shared family leave to include fathers. Pitiot is also pushing for leave for employees who are living with domestic violence. She has signed a number of gender-related proposals, including an anti-revenge-porn bill.
But despite all this, Pitiot remains firmly against abortion. She believes life begins at conception and must be protected, a position, she states, that is not based on her own religious beliefs. She is not a practicing Christian, but does consider herself Catholic. While her late mother was religious, her father is an atheist. She has been married for 18 years and has a 16-year-old son.
Pitiot believes in strengthening strategies such as contraception and informed sex education to avoid unwanted pregnancies. “What woman doesn’t want to plan her pregnancy?” she says. She also believes that the Catholic Church “has an enormous responsibility in this,” for discouraging the use of contraceptives.
Many Argentine feminists assert that it is not feminist to oppose abortion, and that a ban simply pushes it underground and lead to more unsafe abortions. “It’s an enormous contradiction,” says Vanina Escales, who works on gender issues at the Center for Legal and Social Studies, an Argentine nongovernmental organization. “It means taking away the right to autonomy over women’s own bodies, the right to access health care … If we’re talking about machista [sexist] violence and don’t see the number of teenage pregnancies that come from that, we’re seeing things with one eye.”
Pitiot’s views about the relationship between abortion and poverty have caused particular controversy. During the 2018 abortion debate, she was widely criticized for saying, “The poor don’t throw things away, because the poor have nothing to spare.”
Now, she tells me she doesn’t think poverty should be part of the debate. “Poor women don’t want to abort,” she says. “And actually poor women don’t abort, and not because they don’t have access … because possibly all that they have are their children.”
Yet the World Health Organization, the Guttmacher Institute and Amnesty International Argentina have highlighted how unsafe abortions disproportionately affect poor women. According to a 2018 Amnesty International report: “Unsafe abortion has been the first cause of maternal death in Argentina since 1980, especially for the poorest women.”
Despite these disputes, Pitiot generally takes a conciliatory approach. “She’s very open, very receptive to the opinions of others, even if they are opposed to her personal position,” says Laura Giunta, of the General Audit Office, who has worked with Pitiot for years.
Pitiot herself believes it’s OK for feminists to have different opinions, and adds that there are women she agrees with on every issue except abortion. But with the heated debate resurfacing soon, Argentina’s leaders will have to decide where they stand.
Ozy.com 24 September 2019