know about The US can learn from post-Roe v. Latin American abortion laws. Wade, experts say – Everett Post
(RIO DE JANEIRO) — Fabiana*, 24, was pregnant with her second child in Rio de Janeiro and, like thousands of other Brazilian women, knew she couldn’t depend on the health care system.
“It was too much for me,” he told ABC News. “I just couldn’t handle that. I don’t want to be like many women with many children.”
Her mother worked as a maid for a wealthy family that offered to pay for a doctor, but, not wanting to incur any debt, she said she instead found a cheaper option where she could buy abortion drugs on the black market.
“I wasn’t afraid to take it,” he said. “She wanted to be released from this pregnancy. she couldn’t afford me [a baby]. It was impossible.”
“Of course, I would have preferred to go to a hospital, but this option was not even possible for me. I didn’t even think about it,” she added.
Fabiana’s story unfolds across the continent each year, although she admits she was lucky not to have any complications. Brazil’s old penal code has remained intact since 1940, banning abortion in all cases except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or endangers the life of the mother, and activists fear that the country, as in parts of the US, may move on to enact stricter laws. .
As a region, South America has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, and yet, according to a study by The Lancet, it is among those with the highest estimated frequency of administered abortions. Despite Brazil’s restrictive legislation, around 500,000 illegal abortions are believed to take place annually among women between the ages of 18 and 39, according to a 2019 study.
That pattern has played out across the continent, highlighting a trend activists in the US have long observed: criminalizing abortion doesn’t reduce the number of abortions, it just makes them more unsafe for women.
However, while the continent has long been known for its restrictive reproductive rights practices, human rights groups and lawyers point to a number of pivotal developments that may be turning the tide and, in a hostile political environment, provide lessons for their counterparts in the United States
‘A guilt system for pregnant women’
The severity of abortion laws varies from place to place in Latin America and the Caribbean, but in six countries (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname) abortion in any case carries a criminal sanction.
While that doesn’t mean abortions don’t happen there, the criminalization has driven women to resort to clandestine means for abortions and has disproportionately impacted the poorest in society, activists say.
In the case of El Salvador, abortion was decriminalized for a brief period between 1973 and 1975, but a penal code instituted in 1978 generated a total prohibition, even in the case of incest or rape.
“I had no choice but to become an activist,” Mariana Moisa, an activist in El Salvador, told ABC News. “And now that the United States has reversed Roe v. Wade, most conservative groups in Salvador and other countries that have always denied women’s rights see it as validation of the ongoing violations of women’s rights.”
Doctors are at great risk performing abortions in secret, and the criminalization of the procedure has led to cases where uninduced miscarriages have led to convictions, Mariana Moisa, an activist in El Salvador, told ABC News.
This year, a woman known as “Elsy” was finally released after a decade in prison, having been sentenced to 30 years for aggravated murder after suffering a miscarriage.
“There is a system of guilt for pregnant women. Women are constantly afraid,” she said. “Most women do not have the financial means to find a doctor to provide a safe abortion. But for rich women this is not a problem.
While El Salvador’s policies are stricter than those faced by people like Fabiana in Brazil, the risk women face of running into the judicial system when requesting an abortion is just as real.
“Very often, in hospitals, women cannot have an abortion without entering the judicial system”, Gustavo Scandelari, professor of criminal law at the Federal University of Paraná. “We need a lot of improvements in our legal system. It hasn’t changed since 1940. We are so far behind.”
In the 2020 case of a 10-year-old girl in Espíro Santo state, Scandelari said, a judge initially rejected her request for an abortion before a media campaign helped overturn the decision. A similar ordeal faced an 11-year-old rape victim this year, who was initially denied an abortion because she was in the 22nd week of her pregnancy.
“There is no improvement in the discussion about abortion in Brazil,” Luciana Temer, president of the human rights organization Instituto Liberta, told ABC News. Even worse than that, what happened in the US could happen here sooner than we think. It would be even worse than in the United States, since the law would be national, the states could not make individual exceptions.”
“Now that the United States has reversed Roe v. Wade, most conservative groups in Salvador and other countries that have always denied women’s rights see it as validation of the continued violation of women’s rights,” Moisa said.
The ‘green wave’ movement
Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director of the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, said that while the continent has strict abortion laws, there is reason for optimism.
“I think that in Latin America, the Caribbean, we have seen very important victories in the last few years, even though this continent has some of the most restrictive abortion laws,” she told ABC News. “In recent years we have seen how a movement has grown throughout the region, this green wave movement of women who mobilize for reproductive rights.”
This began in Argentina, he said, which after years of popular pressure legalized abortion up to 14 weeks in 2020, and has been followed up by the Supreme Court of Justice in Mexico’s decision to recognize the right to abortion in 2021, and the Constitutional Court of Colombia. decriminalize abortion up to 21 weeks, the most progressive ruling on the continent to date.
That, Coral said, has been followed up in Chile. While the country’s Congress has moved to restrict reproductive rights in recent years, keeping them on a par with Brazil, the election of progressive Gabriel Boric and his proposals for a new constitution recently saw the right to abortion added to a draft text that is set to go to a public vote in September.
“The judges and legislators have played a very important role in Argentina, the Congress in Mexico, the Colombian judges,” said Coral. “We cannot deny that this was important, but I think that the most important role was played by civil society organizations and feminist movements, since these movements have understood that, in Latin America, a legal victory is not enough, that really we need to create a public conversation about these issues so that we can really implement these decisions. The strategy of the movement in Latin America has been to be able to socially decriminalize abortion.”
The lessons to be learned from Latin America, Coral said, is that a combination of legal and grassroots pressure is required to improve and defend reproductive rights.
Even with those successes, 97% of women of reproductive age in Latin America live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
And both Temer and Moisa fear that the Roe v Wade overturn has helped embolden conservative sentiment in the region and could lead to even more restrictive practices.
*’Fabiana’ is a pseudonym given to protect her identity
Jamie Dorrington of ABC News contributed to this report
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