The text has been taken from the following Blog and can be read in [Portugues] there.
28th of September – The Latin-American and Caribbean Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion.
During the 5th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting, in 1990, the feminist movements declared the 28th of September as the Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion. They considered the complications which resulted by the illegal and clandestine abortion processes to be the first cause of women’s death in most countries.
In the region, the date is celebrated with demonstrations, walks, acts and workshops in order to educate the Latin American and Caribbean society about the high female mortality caused by unsafe and illegal abortions, to discuss the control over the female body, questioning laws, promoting debates, creating political alliances and plotting strategies for action.
This year, the campaign will take place in several countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. We want to show a panorama of the abortions laws in the region based on the bulletin “Situation of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean” published by the 28th of September Campaign, the main obstacles faced by the Feminist Movements in the region, and current facts which add new aspects in the process.
The main obstacles for the Abortion Legalization in Latin America and Caribbean
The main opposition to the advance of the reproductive rights in Latin America and the Caribbean is found in the religious fundamentalist sector. This sector represents a huge obstacle to the democratic process and to the elaboration of public policies to promote gender equality.
The conservative religious movements base their claims on the protection of the „natural family“ and the preservation of the traditional role of women* within society through interfering in their sexual and reproductive rights. This religious sector is represented by churches and civil organisations which try to implement religious agendas.
The historical influence of the Catholic Church and the most recent influence of the Evangelical Churches in the Latin American and Caribbean political systems result in the translations of religious ideas in laws and public policies that configure among the most restrictive in the world.
One example for the constant attempt of the Church to interfere in the political systems of the region are the efforts during the Constitutional Conventions in Brazil (1988), in Colombia (1991) and in Argentina (1994), in which the Catholic Church tried to establish the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception in the constitution.
Another example are the members of the fundamentalist religious movement who act inside of the state. Some of them hold formal positions within the government and continue to propose laws, like „the Statute of the Unborn“ presented in Brazil (2007), which tries to give absolute priority to the fetus over the mother in any medical decision at the expense of women and their bodies. The statute proposes to ban abortion in every situation.
One peculiarity of the Feminist Movement in Latin American and Caribbean is the strong emphasis in the secularization since the region is still dominated by a strong influence of the Church in the State. The claim for the secularization of the State was relatively out of the political discussions since the end of the dictatorship times and during the re-democratization process, but it mightily came back into discussion thanks to the Feminist Movements. The agenda of the Feminist Movements in the region started to attack the interference of the Church in the State threatening the power of religious fundamentalists groups. The result was that the question on abortion became a central topic in the dispute over the secularity of these States. Thus, the struggle for secularization and the decriminalization of abortion go together in the „young democracies“ of Latin America and Caribbean.
An overview about the abortions Laws in some countries of Latin America and Caribbean
In 2012 Uruguay decriminalized the abortion without restrictions until the 12th week joining Cuba (where the abortion is legalized without restrictions until the 10th week since 1965), Guyana, Puerto Rico and Mexico City. Not coincidently, Mexico and Uruguay are among the most secular countries in Latin America.
In 2007, due to efforts of GIRE (Information Group of Elected Reproduction, Mexico) the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City approved a reform legalizing the abortion without restrictions until the 12th week of pregnancy. However, as Mexico is the only Latin American country were the criminal codes and health laws are determine locally, the legalization did not yet spread to other Mexican states. Instead, after the legalization in Mexico City, 13 mexican states created new amendments to the existing legislation to define the beginning of life at the moment of conception.
In Brasil, in 2004, ANIS (Institute for Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender) filled a legal action to the Brazilian Supreme Court which led to the legalization of the abortion in cases of fetal anencephaly approved in 2012. In March 2013, the Brazilian Medical Council suggested to the National Congress to include in the new Criminal Code, which is being discussed by the brazilian society, the legalization of abortion without restriction until the 12th week. The suggestion has been intensely criticized by the religious sector which used its influence in politics to support the extreme counter proposal called „the Statute of the Unborn“.
In Ecuador, abortion is legal in cases of risk to the woman’s life or rape of mentally disabled women (the basic idea seems to be that mentally healthy women are not raped!) Last year, 2013, the Politician Paola Pablón presented a reform to include the right of abortion to all women victims of rape. The action was reason enough for the president Rafael Correa, who describes himself as a catholic, to declare the act as a „treachery and disloyalty“ and threaten to resign. The result was the retreat of the law by Pablón and protests by the Ecuadorian feminist movements.
Central America and Caribbean are the most restricted places. Seven countries forbid abortion entirely: Chile, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname. The article 128 of the Penal Code in Honduras punishes with three to six years of prison women who induce abortion and in 2009 the congress banned emergency contraception. The new penal code of Nicaragua (2008) determines the imprisonment of women who induce abortions and also health professionals who assist them, banning a law which made abortion legal in order to preserve the woman’s life or in cases of rape for almost 100 years. In Haiti the legislation is the same since 1876 and punishes with imprisonment women and those who have assisted them. In El Salvador, a reform done in 1987 penalizes the abortion with two to eight years of prison. This month, Amnesty International warned El Salvador’s government about the situation of control and repression over the salvadoran women.
In Chile the abortion is penalized in all cases, a heritage of Pinochet’s dictatorship. The abortion laws are inside the clauses: „Crimes committed against the familiar order and public morality“ and are considered one of the most restricted in the World. This month, the UN has recommended to Chilean government the legalization of abortion to women under 18 years. Michelle Bachelet, the new president of Chile since March 2014, pronounced herself favorable to the therapeutic abortion in Chile and promised a decision for the last months of 2014.
The panorama of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean is far from respecting the sexual and reproductive rights of women and providing gender equality. Despite the advances in the legislation in several countries, religious fundamentalism grows and permeates the Latin American political scene signing pacts with governments and hindering the secularization of the States of the region. Both the right and the so-called left goverments, submit themselves to religious pressure and make pacts with these groups in an attempt to get more votes from a largely religious population. Religion continues to use its mass of followers to impose itself on the State and legislate on the lives of Latin American and Caribbean peoples. The struggle to legalize the abortion is emblematic for two reasons1) it questions the huge influence of the Church in the Latin American and Caribbean States and strengthens the claim for a Secular State. (2) it changes the panorama of forced poverty, violence and discrimination offering families the opportunity to plan, emancipating women and giving them back the right over their bodies, which for so long has been denied.
Given the state of poverty of most Latin American and Caribbean countries added to its colonial history and the process of destruction of their multiculturalism, the religious and state domination over women’s bodies sets the continuity of the violence that began with the domination and genocide of native people and is perpetuated by controlling the reproductive rights of women. The control of reproductive rights translates into control over the fate and freedom of the Latin American and Caribbean people keeping them on poverty, on a world of violence, discrimination and racism and rigid state control over their bodies.