Study shows how Latin America dealt with abortion in this

Study shows how Latin America dealt with abortion in this
Study shows how Latin America dealt with abortion in this

During the beginning of the 21st century, in the period typically known as the “pink wave”, a series of left and center-left governments were democratically elected in Latin America. In line with guidelines for reducing social inequalities, these governments acted in different ways to expand some gender equality policies. But certain polemical fields have had only timid advances or even setbacks: this is the case with sexual and reproductive rights.

This is the subject of the master’s research conducted by Carla Vitória Barbosa in the Graduate Program in Political Science at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP. She analyzed and compared changes in the legal status of abortion in Latin American countries where this legislation underwent some modification between 2000 and 2020.

What she observed was that, despite half of the liberal democracies in the region having carried out some kind of reform in the abortion laws, only in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and in some provinces in Mexico progressive governments carried out changes in the sense of expanding the right of people to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

In countries where progress has been made, the study highlights the intense popular mobilization, negotiation with strategic sectors of society, such as jurists, universities and health professionals, in addition to the performance of monitoring and guidance groups for women to carry out the procedure more safely. and less fear, pain and guilt.

Obstacles to legal abortion approval and the role of presidents

The researcher explains that one factor that has contributed to the fact that the abortion agenda has not advanced as much as other struggles of the feminist movement is that, especially in South America, the left-wing movements that were elected in these countries have historical links with progressive sectors of the churches. , having collaborated in the resistance to the extreme right-wing military dictatorships that were in power in these countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

When these parties came to power, relations with these religious forces were decisive in whether or not pro-abortion reforms were approved. According to Carla Vitória, in coalition presidentialism, the executive leader’s veto power and the need to articulate negotiations with other parties make the president a crucial figure.

“In general, right-wing presidents have played an active role in prosecuting reproductive rights and proposing laws restricting access to legal abortion. The leftists, on the other hand, when they were not aligned with the agenda, played a more hindering role, preventing the advance of liberalizing projects”, says Carla Vitória to Jornal da USP.

She cites the example of Argentina: the fact that Néstor Kirchner took a more combative stance in defense of the secular State and that Cristina Kirchner, who ruled after him for the same party (PJ), was more committed to the Catholic Church, meant that there were much less openness to the discussion of abortion in her term. But it is important to note that these positions can change over time: in 2020, the former president played a decisive role in the Senate negotiations that led to the legalization of abortion in the country.

In Uruguay, the difference was even more striking: in 2008, President Tabaré Vázquez vetoed a bill to legalize abortion that had majority support in Congress and, in the following term, the bill was approved by President Pepe Mujica, also from the same party. de Vázquez (Broad Front).

“In all cases where some change in the law has taken place, whether expanding or restricting the right to abortion, the president’s first role has been to stay out of the way. This is very significant when we think, for example, of Lula’s recent statement, who said he was against abortion, but saw it as a public health issue, possibly signaling that he would not veto if decriminalization were passed in Congress,” he points out. the researcher.

The successful experiences of Argentina and Chile

Two of the countries monitored in Carla’s research had new relevant events related to the abortion issue after the time frame analyzed during the master’s degree. In Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez sanctioned, in January 2021, a law legalizing abortion up to 14 weeks by decision of the pregnant woman and without a time limit in life-threatening cases. In Chile, the draft of the new Constitution, the result of popular demonstrations in 2019, includes a paragraph establishing that the State must provide “the conditions for a voluntary and protected pregnancy, voluntary termination of pregnancy, childbirth and maternity”. In other words: if the document is approved in the plebiscite that takes place on September 4, Chile will become the first country in the world to include the right to legal abortion in its Constitution.

The new Argentine law, of 2021, is the result of a campaign that emerged in 2004, at the 19th National Meeting of Women, and took eight attempts to pass Congress – the penultimate one, in 2018, had about five months of mobilization. and led a crowd to the streets in defense of legal, safe and free abortion.

In addition to the intense popular mobilization and a lot of negotiation, Carla identifies two factors that were important for the support for such a polemic and divisive issue to have been able to spread to a wider part of society: a campaign aimed at strategic sectors of society, such as jurists, universities and health professionals (a pro-abortion doctor will not denounce a woman for having an abortion, for example) and the feminist monitoring of abortion.

This is a name given to the direct action of movements that welcome and teach women to perform a safe abortion with pills, following the recommendations of the World Health Organization. These sectors are very strong in Argentina, and their performance in the years prior to the approval of the law contributed to demystifying the procedure in common sense, showing how simple and safe it can be.

“A lot happens to a girl who doesn’t know anyone who is in favor of legalizing abortion, but gets pregnant and doesn’t want to keep that pregnancy. Then she meets one of these groups of companions and the abortion becomes an experience of relief in the face of a problem, instead of fear, pain and guilt”, says Carla. “Through practice rather than speech, these collectives change the popular imagination behind the veil of society and political campaigns that don’t want to talk about the subject because they believe it can go wrong”, she adds.

The strength of feminist monitoring of abortion was also important in Chile, which, in a five-year span, went from being one of the only five countries in the world to have abortion prohibited in absolutely all cases (a legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship) to being, possibly on the verge of passing one of the most advanced legislation on the subject in the world.

“The change in public opinion has been very rapid, which shows that the majority are actually in favor of abortion. Polls usually ask ‘are you pro-abortion?’ in the abstract, and most people say no. But when you put concrete situations – ‘what if it’s your daughter? What if she’s been raped? What if I have to finish my studies? and if you don’t have the financial means to create?’ – where you choose to terminate a pregnancy, that response changes.

According to Carla, what history shows is that when movements have the courage to address the issue of abortion, there is room for changes to happen quickly in this field of dispute which, in her view, is also about democracy, about who is considered a citizen. and can enjoy rights.

More information: email [email protected]with Carla Vitória Barbosa

The article is in Portuguese

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