File photo: Demonstrators in favour of legalising abortion protest outside the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, after US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 27 June 2022; Credit: Reuters/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will no longer require a prescription to obtain emergency contraception, commonly known as the "morning after pill", the government said on Wednesday 31 May 2023, broadening reproductive rights in the traditionally conservative South American country.

The Catholic country and homeland of Pope Francis approved a law allowing abortion up to fourteen weeks in December 2020, part of a wave of liberalising legislation around the region, even as the United States further north has seen abortion access tightened.

In the official bulletin, the health ministry wrote that the measure would help avoid unintentional pregnancy by helping overcome "difficulties of access to health services, contraception supplies and education" faced by some.

"This removes an important barrier to access," Valeria Isla, director of sexual and reproductive health at the Health Ministry, told Reuters. "People can have this method of contraception as support before an emergency happens."

Emergency contraception is a hormonal pill taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy by blocking the fertilisation of the egg, according to the World Health Organization, though it is more effective within twelve hours.

The day-after pill is available without a prescription in at least 70 countries, including the United States. Most Latin American countries allow emergency contraceptives, but some require prescriptions or have a minimum age requirement.

Vanessa Gagliardi, leader of Argentine feminist organisation Juntas y a la Izquierda, said the move will help "de-stigmatise" the morning-after pill in a country where seven out of ten adolescent pregnancies were unplanned, official data showed. "For a long time it was thought to induce an abortion, which is not true," Gagliardi said, referring to the common criticism of emergency contraception from pro-life groups.

Argentine pro-life group DerquiXlaVida said the measure was worrying because "the state is essentially orienting itself towards promoting abortive measures. It's a way of recognising the failure of pregnancy prevention, sex education and the responsibility and even persecution of authors and promoters of sexual abuse," the group said in a statement.