Abortion rights activists in the United States can learn from recent advances in abortion access in Latin America

However, this model has changed in recent years. Just as several US states have introduced new barriers to abortion access through various restrictions, some Latin American countries have taken the opposite direction, with an increasing number of countries liberalizing these laws.

Laura Gil, a gynecologist and abortion rights activist in Bogota, Colombia, experienced this turnaround firsthand. “I remember we used to meet medical professionals in the United States, and for years they always looked at us with admiration for our fight to expand reproductive rights. Now it’s the opposite,” he said. she told CNN.

The doctor was in Florida for one of those meetings when news of the leak broke on Monday. Her American colleagues were maligned, she said. “They come from an environment where abortion is legal, whereas for us abortion was illegal and now it’s not,” she said.

Colombia’s move follows similar moves recently in Mexico and Argentina, where abortion rights advocates collectively protesting as the ‘green wave’ – the movement’s color of choice – celebrated their victories .

Argentina’s Senate voted to legalize abortion for up to 14 weeks in December 2020, making the country the largest country in Latin America at the time to legalize the practice.
In September, Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional, a decision that should set a precedent for the legal status of abortion nationwide, although individual states have advanced at different paces in its implementation.

And last month, after years of legal battles, Ecuador took the first step to liberalize its laws by legalizing abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape up to 12 weeks.

valuable lessons

Now that it looks like things could be turning around, some Latin American activists say they can offer valuable lessons to their American counterparts in advocating for abortion rights.

Giselle Carino, an Argentine political scientist who helped campaign for legal abortion in her country, is now the CEO of New York-based Fos Feminista, a feminist alliance of more than 170 organizations around the world.

“I look at Argentina with a lot of pride, of course, because it was a really democratic effort,” Carino told CNN.

“It took us 20 years, and we had a lot of defeats. When we succeeded, it was because the mobilization was enormous: we talked about abortion at the table, in bars, cafes, and at the same time we managed to put women in positions of power. We elected feminist representatives who would try to broaden our struggle,” she said.

“Those were the two lessons: making abortion mainstream and moving forward through political victories, bit by bit,” she added.

Abortion rights activists celebrate in Buenos Aires after Argentina's Senate approved a bill to legalize abortion for up to 14 weeks in December 2020.
Carino sees Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory as a turning point for abortion rights. “It’s his legacy because, who put those justices on the Supreme Court? It’s a legacy of authoritarianism and attacks on basic human rights. When you elect a leader like Trump, the damage are much deeper than four years in power,” she said. mentioned.

But Carino considers overturning Roe v. Wade as far from a defeat. Instead, she sees it as a call for progressive activists to renew their fight for full reproductive rights and as an opportunity to elect politicians who support those goals in the upcoming US midterm elections.

“America knows how to get people out on the streets, watch Black Lives Matter. Now is the time to elect feminist women leaders,” she said.

Despite the marked gains of the pro-abortion movement in some Latin American countries, activists are still concerned about the fragile state of abortion rights in several countries in their region.

Social justice

Society has long been hostile to women seeking abortions in Latin America, where the Catholic Church remains a major influence, although the influence of Protestant churches is increasingly impacting politics in countries like Brazil. .

In many Latin American countries, women face prosecution and long prison sentences for the procedure – and in some countries, even for a miscarriage.

In El Salvador, for example, Sara Rogel spent nearly 10 years in prison after being convicted of murder after losing her pregnancy in what she said was a fall at home at the age of 22.
Activists in El Salvador demonstrate against gender-based violence and in favor of abortion rights in San Salvador in 2016.

Abortion rights activists fear that this will be the situation in some US states in a few years.

“A great victory for the feminist struggle in Latin America is to show that abortion is a matter of social justice,” says Luisa Kislinger, a Venezuelan abortion rights activist who now lives in the United States.

Venezuela only allows abortion when the life of the pregnant person is in danger, with thousands of clandestine abortions performed each year in the country by people who cannot afford to travel abroad for the procedure, Kislinger told CNN.

While data on illegal abortions is difficult to collect, organizations such as Faldas-R, a Caracas-based NGO that provides counseling to people seeking to terminate their pregnancies, say more than 70% of people seeking their help live in poverty.

“In Venezuela, abortion is effectively prohibited for poor women, and that often means black, indigenous, disabled women…these are all minorities,” Kislinger said.

“That’s exactly what could happen in the United States, because communities like African Americans, Latinos, or migrants often don’t have the resources to get abortions (there too),” she said. declared.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, supports this concern.

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Abortion is “increasingly concentrated among low-income women,” according to the group, which says “low-income women without abortion insurance coverage often struggle to find money to pay for the intervention”.

“As a result, they often experience delays in obtaining an abortion or are forced to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term.”

This fall, Latin American abortion rights activists will have all their eyes on Brazil, where presidential candidate and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently said everyone should be allowed to abort.

Da Silva and incumbent Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro – who is a staunch opponent of legalizing abortion – are set to face off in October’s election. The Brazilian Ministry of Health recognizes that the country is among the 25% of countries with the most restrictive abortion laws.

By the time Brazil chooses its path, in the United States, a federal right to abortion may well be a thing of the past.

This story has been updated to correct Giselle Carino’s craft. She is a political scientist.

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