know about What the US Can Learn From Victories Over Abortion Rights in Latin America: NPR
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Reproductive rights protests in Latin America have been inundated with tens of thousands of bright green bandanas in recent years.
They represent the green wave, a mass movement to expand rights in the region that has already proven its effectiveness. In the last two years, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have fully decriminalized or legalized abortion. Other neighboring countries like Chile could be next.
Now, with the disappearance of federal protections against abortion in the US, reproductive rights advocates in the states may be looking to their counterparts in Latin America for inspiration and strategy.
María Antonieta Alcalde is director of IPA in Central America and Mexico, an organization that promotes access to safe and legal abortion throughout the world. He joined all things considered share insights from their own work and give insight into what the movement in the US could do next.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
On what’s working in the Latin American reproductive rights movement now
One of the things that has been crucial in advancing abortion rights in Latin America has been the green wave. The green wave is this movement that is very grassroots. It is a movement in which many young people participate. And I think that what had to happen in Latin America, due to legal restrictions, is that we as a movement had to explore all avenues to target and promote access to safe abortion, even within legal restrictions, but also to mobilize. So we mobilize through large organizations, national and regional organizations.
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The green movement is a very inclusive movement because you don’t have to be part of a political party, you don’t have to be part of a specific organization, you don’t have to donate. You just have to be there, wear your green scarf and help women access information about safe and legal abortion.
On whether greater access to abortions has translated into more abortions
In the case of Mexico and in most Latin American countries, things are different from the US because we have a public health system. In Mexico City, women can access free abortions because the government has an obligation to provide health care to everyone.
What we’ve learned is that decriminalizing abortion actually reduced women’s need for access, because when you legalize abortion, you can provide comprehensive services for women.
So, if you come to Mexico to a public health clinic, women not only receive a very good quality service to terminate pregnancy, but also receive, for example, counseling in the event that they are facing a situation of violence. So they can have access to other services to escape these situations. They are also offered contraceptives free of charge. So, most women who come to an abortion clinic leave the clinic not only with an abortion, but also with contraceptives. Most of the time, it is a long-acting contraceptive like an implant.
If their partners come with them, they even offer vasectomies for their partners. So when you can provide legal abortion in the public health system, you address the needs of the most vulnerable people. Those are the ones who go to the public health system and you can offer them comprehensive services that will prevent them from coming back one or two more times with an unwanted pregnancy.
On where the US abortion rights movement failed
This is a very good time to rethink ourselves, because I also feel part of the movement in the US.
I think maybe the first part is that the American movement is very isolated. If you think about the abortion movement or the sexual and reproductive rights movement around the world, we’re very close. The green wave is an expression that is not the Argentine movement or the Colombian or the Chilean, we are all together. And we learn from each other.
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Perhaps the other element is that this is a movement that has part of its strength based on large organizations. I’m talking about Planned Parenthood or even the Center for Reproductive Rights. [Because then] It’s not about access to abortion, it’s about Planned Parenthood. If someone disagrees with you as an organization, even a little bit, there is not much room to go to another space or be part of the movement.
I think that had made organizing difficult because there are other forms, other expressions of the movement, even expressions of the Latino movement, even expressions of the Afro-American movement, that have not been strong within this morality of the large organizations.
And perhaps the third is that the model in the US is very clinical. An abortion service is accessed in a clinic with everything that is required in terms of infrastructure, in terms of medical equipment and personnel, while in other parts of the world the route of self-managed abortion to access and abort has been stronger. More and more women are self-managing their abortions and for that you don’t need a clinic.
On whether he has hope for the US abortion rights movement.
I think these are foundational moments, or re-foundational moments for the US.
I think this is the time for the movement to take a look at itself. When I am critical of the American movement, I do so with much appreciation for the work that the movement has done.
But also, if the movement doesn’t take this moment, perhaps the most painful moment in its history, and rethink ourselves as a movement, it will be a missed opportunity.
So I think this is a time to be really critical, not with the idea of pointing fingers at ourselves, but with the idea of strengthening the movement. And again, that’s where I think the work that we’ve been doing in Latin America and in other countries could be very useful.