For Latinas, the right to abortion in Roe vs. Wade is a fight for which we have prepared (Opinion)


Publisher’s note: Paula Ávila-Guillén is a Colombian human rights lawyer, sexual and reproductive rights activist, and executive director of the Women’s Equality Center, an organization dedicated to supporting and elevating the work of individuals and organizations in Latin America focused on freedom reproductive. The opinions expressed in this column belong exclusively to the author.

(CNN) –– Tens of thousands of people of all ages, economic levels and social backgrounds take to the streets: they are united by the conviction that the autonomy of bodies is a basic human right. They are dressed in green, a color that represents the defense of health. The union of the movement is powerful. change the story.

This scene does not take place in the United States… Or at least it did not until the beginning of May, when Demonstrations began for the right to abortion. He lives in Argentina. In Mexico. In Chile. Even in Colombia, the country where I was born and which now has one of the most liberal abortion laws on the continent, as well as Canada. We see it even in more restrictive contexts regarding sexual and reproductive rights, such as The Savior either Dominican Republicwhich have had massive protests against harsh abortion bans and even the revocation of some prison sentences.

As a lawyer and advocate for women’s health throughout Latin America, I helped organize the “green tide,” which began in Argentina in the early 2000s and gained national prominence by 2018, marking the beginning of a movement that succeeded in passing groundbreaking legislation that protects women’s health and autonomy. In addition to being an example for the region. Many thought that these reforms would never happen, especially in countries where religion and church are often the final arbiter of law and justice.

Now, I am one of the millions of American citizens fighting against the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the Roe v. Wade that protects the right to abortion. Given this situation, there is a painful truth to face: as legal abortion seems to become a thing of the past, a future awaits us with more cases of forced pregnancies, unsafe abortions and the preventable deaths of thousands of women.

However, all is not lost.

At the end of February, the Constitutional Court of Colombia, my country, decriminalized abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy. After this period, there are four exceptions to avoid the penalty: when the life and health of the mother are at risk, when the pregnancy is due to rape or incest, when the pregnancy is non-viable and when it is the product of insemination. forced.

With this decision, Colombia is the third Latin American country to decriminalize abortion in the last two years, joining Argentina ––which allows it until week 14–– and Mexico ––although it depends on each state–– in recognizing the autonomy of women’s bodies as a human right. (Currently, 9 of the 32 states of Mexico have followed the sentence of the Supreme Court of Justice that decriminalizes abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy).

Congress of Baja California Sur decriminalizes abortion 0:43

This wave of changes in favor of women’s sexual and reproductive rights is taking place in some of the most Catholic countries in the world. And, in the specific cases of Mexico and Colombia, it demonstrates how judges ultimately declared the criminalization of abortion unconstitutional. In other words: they interpreted the law according to the Constitution and without obeying their personal or religious beliefs.

That said, evangelical groups have proven to be more conservative than Catholic ones on many issues, including abortion. Precisely in countries where evangelical churches represent the main social forces, as is the case in Honduras, Guatemala and even Brazil, progress in favor of women’s rights seems less likely.

Did you know that abortion was legal in the 19th century in the US? 1:51

The ruling of the Colombian Constitutional Court would not have been possible without the human rights organizations in the country that exerted political pressure on the magistrates. Through street protests, social media posts and media interventions nationals and international They highlighted a well-known truth: the system of exceptions to abortion does not protect the most vulnerable girls and pregnant people in the country.

In 2006, the Constitutional Court determined that women could access safe and legal abortion under three conditions: when there were fetal malformations incompatible with life, if the pregnancy represented a risk to the health and life of the woman or when the pregnancy was due to rape, incest or insemination forced. This ruling was as restrictive as it was ethereal, so it was ineffective when it came to guaranteeing access to abortion.

When, in 2021, the Constitutional Court decided to review the norms on abortion again, human rights lawyers and activists knew that it was crucial to highlight discrimination against the most vulnerable women in order to change the minds and hearts of judges. And, ultimately, achieve a ruling in favor of decriminalization.

This required finding and sharing the deeply painful personal stories of women who were denied the right to an abortion, even when they met the permitted grounds. We needed to demonstrate that the implementation of the 2006 ruling reinforced that access to voluntary interruption of pregnancy was a privilege of rich people and not a right of all Colombians.

We clarified to the judges in Colombia exactly who was being denied access to abortion. Reports from Profamilia, a private non-profit organization that promotes sexual and reproductive rights in the country, made headlines by revealing that in 2020 alone more than 30,000 women they were denied the right to obtain legal access.

Historical: Colombia decriminalizes abortion until week 24 2:28

All of them were then forced to decide between a clandestine abortion or to continue with their pregnancies by force. And the reality is that every year 132,000 women and girls suffer complications from unsafe abortions in Colombia, according to Human Rights Watch, with figures from the Ministry of Health.

Put another way, restrictive abortion laws led to a public health emergency. Furthermore, we showed that the thousands of people denied safe abortion each year were almost exclusively the most marginalized: minors, rape survivors, immigrants, refugees, women living in rural areas, and people living in poverty.

The judges could not ignore the reality we showed them: the abortion laws created both a public health burden and a class system. People with resources will always be able to access health care, while those without cannot. The Constitutional Court of Colombia had no choice but to level rights and decriminalize abortion once and for all, because we verified that the laws failed the most vulnerable people, those that Colombia has a duty to protect.

Americans who believe in abortion rights can still reject the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade. In fact, we need everyone who cares about civil and human rights to join the cause.

Get states to codify Roe vs. Wade, and supporting abortion funds, are central issues in protecting women’s health and lives. But, they will not be able to face this fight without support. We need to learn from Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and other countries to put pressure on elected officials and force them to protect our health and dignity.

That abortion was legal in Latin America was something that was believed impossible. Now that we prepare for the struggle in the United States, we Latinos bring with us the teachings of the movements in our countries, and we carry our green scarves high in the place we now call home.

As demonstrations across the United States have shown, we are taking to the streets to relentlessly defend the autonomy of our bodies. And it’s time we all join in this fight.



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