The fight for the right to abortion spreads in Latin America despite politicians


A demonstrator in Buenos Aires wears a T-shirt with the slogan “my body, my rights,” one of the slogans of the so-called green tide – the colour adopted by the movement for the legalisation of abortion, which is beginning to spread to other Latin American countries. PHOTO/Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 23 2018 (IPS) – The Argentine Senate’s rejection of a bill to legalise abortion did not stop a Latin American movement, which is on the streets and is expanding in an increasingly coordinated manner among women’s organisations in the region with the most restrictive laws and policies against pregnant women’s right to choose.

Approved in Argentina by the Chamber of Deputies and later rejected by a vote of 38 to 31 on Aug. 9, the bill to legalise abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and the historic social mobilisation on the streets offered hope for other countries in the region.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that between 2010 and 2014, some 6.5 million abortions were practiced annually in Latin America and the Caribbean, up from 4.4 million between 1990 and 1994.

In the same period, the region had the highest rate of unintended pregnancies in the world: some 14 million, 46 percent of which end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for women’s reproductive rights, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) principles.

“Actually, it was politics that lost, because here, while society was discussing, talking and joining the green wave (the colour adopted by supporters of the legalisation of abortion), most of the political parties did not flinch,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, a feminist who presides over the Argentine Foundation for Studies and Research on Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“I think that although the impact of the green tide is less than if the law had been approved, the impact it has had on other countries will be felt and will help get laws passed; it will even revive alliances with parliamentarians and journalists. I’m sure it will yield fruit in several countries,” she said.

In Argentina, abortion is permitted only in cases of rape or risk to a woman’s life or health and is punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment for women in other cases.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is only legal in Cuba, French Guiana, Guyana and Uruguay, as well as Mexico City, while in the rest of the region “therapeutic abortion” is only allowed in specific circumstances such as those of Argentina.

Bianco attributes this to the weight of the Catholic Church in the region and “now to the new evangelical churches that are making headway in broad sections of the population, especially among the poor.”

“We are concerned because these groups work their way into political parties and then, when they make their way into parliament, they form blocks and govern decision-making, as is happening in Brazil,” she said.

That is why, in the view of this renowned Latin American feminist, the next step for Argentina and other countries in the region is to “make headway in a campaign for a secular state.”

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