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The abortion disputes in Latin America

Six out of eight countries around the world where abortion is criminalized are in Latin America: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Surinam, and Haiti, plus Malta and the Vatican. The countries of the region where abortion is legal without restrictions are Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Mexico City only.

In most countries in Latin-America abortion is allowed in some circumstances and is called as the voluntary or legal interruption of pregnancy (VIP). In Brazil, Dominica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Argentina, Colombia and Jamaica, abortion is allowed under some of the following causes: when the physical or mental health of the woman is in risk, in cases of rape, for a socioeconomic reason or fetus malformation [1].

Recently a discussion took place in Argentina regarding a bill which proposed a transition period between a model of partial decriminalization based on causes (in effect since 1921) to a mixed model including a system of terms and causes to access a safe abortion, without criminalization.

They looked to establish a period of 14 weeks to exercise the right to a VIP and from then on certify to the healthcare system the existence of any of the causes.

This bill, beyond being a domestic debate which led to its approval in June of this year in the Chamber of Deputies and later denial in Congress in August, showed a discussion between similar actors and situations in the region.

On one side the feminists with a controversial demand, such as reproductive autonomy by eliminating penal codes for abortion as a crime and complete legalization, turning it into a healthcare issue, eliminating deaths due to clandestine abortions and accompanied by comprehensive programs of access to information, planning and in general greater guarantees for sexual and reproductive rights.

The green handkerchief in Argentina

The feminists in Argentina support their social movement with a symbol of a green handkerchief, which summoned not only men but world-renowned public figures. This mobilization had an impact in the region and allowed the feminist movement of each country to act together. This also visibilized ultraconservative groups, which observing the media impact, also had mobilizations of their own and in the region using blue handkerchiefs.

The battle to decriminalize abortion is understood as the feminist drive to allow all women to abort. However, the airiness of this argument is just a sample of the enormous disinformation this debate has shown, by being precisely one of the intentions of the groups against debating on the subject and even more deeply, to stop the progress of libertarian movements.

The groups of women that through history have requested governments to eliminate abortion from the penal code have done so with the reason of guaranteeing the right of women to decide and avoid the growth of deaths due to clandestine abortions. In these cases, they look to put the debate as a debt of democracy and equity in the healthcare scope instead of in the penal scenario. On the other hand, the pro-life movements have based their speech on the defense of two or three lives, referring to the pregnant mother the unborn child and the father, mother, and child in the latter case. They generally refer to their speech as a matter of life or death.

An international look

Beyond trying to blend each of the actors, there are common points on each side that allow analyzing the situation from an international perspective.

The growth in the political scope that Evangelic Christian groups have had in the region, which has demands against abortion and the LGBT community, provides a perspective on how at the regional level, the ultraconservative ideas turn these groups into political actors, which in alliance with other groups appear as important protagonists of the public debate.

In the Congress of Brazil, for instance, an Evangelic movement formed to stop legislative actions in favor of the LGBT community and were key actors in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

In Costa Rica, the attack to the call of conservative groups to “gender ideology” has made these groups with political representation to have alliances with other actors and achieve actions such as public demonstrations against the LGBTI community. In Paraguay, they stopped the Ministry of Education and helped ban books addressing sexuality in schools. And in Colombia, in the plebiscite to endorse the Habana peace agreement, the “gender ideology” speech was used to create fear and possibly contributed to the outcome of the votes rejecting the peace agreement with FARC, the oldest terrorist group in the region.

We cannot simply deduce that the Christian agenda has all these goals; what is true is that having a manifested and growing power in the region, it has convergence points with right-wing and conservative groups, which may be used in favor or against common objectives as the impeachment of the president of Brazil, for example.

Conservative groups

The dynamics of the region is the same. Evangelical churches and others reach vulnerable areas where they achieve great support who act, in most cases under the guidelines of a pastor.

Also, the leaders of these groups become part of political or economic power associations in every country. They are an example of how religious leaders can achieve political objectives, not only in elections but in positioning a speech through a supposed defense of morale, traditional values, and family.

The growth of conservatism is the region is reflected on the pendulum, which was on the side of leftist governments of the region and which has been gradually turned to the opposite direction, and perhaps abortion causes could fall short, especially in decriminalizing abortion. This is true, especially in countries such as El Salvador, where currently women can be sentenced for up to 40 years for having an abortion.

The strategy of creating unjustified fear is an essential aspect for many people: family, children, and religion, transcends the countries, as it is an international strategy which places the abortion debate not as a local topic but as a subject that can measure the political pulse of the region.

We cannot lose sight that limiting the right of women, particularly sexual and reproductive rights and social LGBT sectors are the main arguments these conservative groups use when negotiating with each local political actor or that they most exhibit over autonomous actors with important strength in the region.

It is essential to follow-up on local situations as that of presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, with a great mass of supporters, the second place in Costa Rica, the president supported by Christian groups or the current alliance of the president of Colombia with Christian pastors who have voiced their political support, which “has awoken as fulfilling the prophesized word said years back, when the Lord said he would raise God-fearing prepared people to sit in governmental positions.”[2]




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