Will Latin America follow in the wake of Roe v. Wade?

Illustration: Erick Retana.

Article by Carlos Gutiérrez for Connectas, republished and edited in Global Voices under a media partnership.

One of the campaign threats of former U.S. President Donald Trump finally came true. In 2016, during a televised debate with his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump said he planned to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which decriminalized abortion in the U.S. To fulfill his promise, he nominated three judges to solidify a conservative front on the Supreme Court. On June 24, they effectively overturned the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

For years, conservative groups have had their sights set on overturning  Roe v. Wade. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops described that ruling in a 2018 statement as the product of “a society increasingly coarsened by toleration and acceptance of acts that purposely destroy human life.” Moreover, it considered it “bad law, bad medicine, and bad social policy” that has left ” death and sorrow and turmoil,” because “many women have been maimed or killed by legal abortion, and abortionists have been protected from legal scrutiny by courts applying Roe.”

The decision of the Supreme Court represents symbolic support to very conservative organizations or social and political actors “who are questioning the advances in women's rights and sexual dissidence.” Carmen Díaz Alba, PhD in Social Sciences and academic of the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores (ITESO), Mexico, explains this to CONNECTAS.

This could have an expansive effect in Latin American countries, where these groups have a very important presence. The reason, points out Rubio Schweizer, the national officer in charge of the Women's Program of the Ministry of Health in Chile, is that Latin America is highly influenced by the United States, since “we are part of their sphere or their circle; therefore, naturally it is not going to have a very good influence in the region.”

In an academic article entitled, “The conservative restoration in Latin America,” Carlos Otto Vázquez, a researcher at the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas in Mexico, talks about the establishment of a neoconservative movement on the continent, one of whose main expressions is precisely Donald Trump. He points out that the main values and practices of this movement are racism, xenophobia, machismo, authoritarianism, classism, homophobia, non-recognition of the other, and rejection of what is different. According to him, this “opens the way to what has been described as a kind of social fascism.”

Vázquez added that this phenomenon is not exclusive to the Americas, as Europe has seen the rise of right-wing and far-right groups, which have even come to hold positions of power and political representation. France, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are some of the countries where these movements are present.

Poland's parliament 🇵🇱 rejected last Thursday a bill to legalize #abortion up to 12 weeks. Another Pro-Life victory in the same week.

According to Vázquez, in Latin America, such conservative tendencies “continue to extend and deepen their operation (…) in the economic, political, social, narrative, cultural and symbolic spheres.” In this region, Vázquez finds it present in Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica, among other countries.

Under the influence of this neoconservative movement, in recent years a campaign has been launched to influence projects “aimed at occupying the State,” according to José Manuel Morán and María Angélica Peñas, researchers at the National University of Córdoba in Argentina. They cite as an example the case of Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro changed the name of the Ministry of Women and Human Rights to the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights. Behind this seemingly subtle change was a whole doctrine about the traditional family, the only one admissible from that moment on in the country. Furthermore, as the researchers say, “the change in this case was not only nominative. He appointed the Evangelical pastor Damares Alves, a key player in the promotion of the ‘gender ideology’ narrative and a staunch opponent of abortion in all cases, to head this Ministry.”

“It is inadmissible to talk about taking the life of this defenseless being!” Bolsonaro wrote on his Twitter account.

Morán and Peñas also find the presence of a “strong Catholic character” in this powerful neoconservative movement in the region, which has been joined by other churches, such as Evangelical ones. For Morán and Peñas, “the transnational progress of women's and LGBTTI+ people's rights has greatly influenced the reaction of conservative religious sectors,” which also have a ” pronounced transnational character.” They warn, however, that Evangelical Christianity has a predominant role that “has transformed neoconservative activism and has snubbed the original Catholic hegemony.”

In their article called, ” A regional view of neoconservative articulations,” both scholars confirm that in Latin America a number of sectors opposed to sexual and reproductive rights are moving forward and tightening their ranks around a “common agenda.” Among these are churches, political parties, NGOs, and think tanks, which react strongly against feminist proposals and those of LGBTTIQ+ collectives.

Now, while it is true that several governments in Latin America have undergone a shift to the left, this does not guarantee the permanence of the rights that vulnerable groups have been achieving in recent years. As Carmen Díaz explains, not all leftist governments on the continent are progressive: “There are quite conservative leftists in terms of women's rights or the rights of queer people.” However, she recognizes that in countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia it is unlikely that there will be an immediate reversal.

In December 2020, Argentina reached a historic milestone in the women's reproductive rights movement, called “la marea verde” (the green tide), and passed the Law on Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. This was followed by Mexico in September 2021 and Colombia in February 2022.

The #MareaVerde joins the pañuelazo [hankerchief demonstration] in front of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico to make it clear that access to safe abortion is a human right 💚✊🏽

The repeal of Roe v. Wade “is a reminder that all over the world, rights can be challenged at any time and may be at risk of being rolled back in a conservative regime. What has just happened in the United States is a very clear example,” says Cristina Rosero, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights in Colombia and a member of the Causa Justa por el Aborto (Just Cause for Abortion) movement.

This implies that no one should be complacent: the future of the rights earned for women and the LGBTTIQ+ community, among others, continues to depend on the governments in power in Latin America. The danger is greater when political projects use the alleged defense of morality as a rallying cry in these countries. “The moralizing rhetoric — emphasize Morán and Peña — is reconfigured in institutional crises, with a strong emphasis on narratives focused on corruption and the inability of traditional parties to represent the majorities, among other issues.”

What should Latin American governments do to defend laws that decriminalize abortion or favor same-sex marriages, among other rights? Vázquez suggests “constituting resistance networks” that allow “to energize the process of social change in its most different areas: in favor of respect and gender equality and against patriarchy; for the inclusion and recognition of sexual minorities,” among other points, in which “the fulfillment of human rights and freedoms” stands out.

Cristina Rosero and Carmen Díaz agree that activist groups must continue to fight for countries to elevate these rights to constitutional norms. In addition, Díaz recommends that governments generate policies that contribute to creating “a collective conscience about human rights, about human dignity, about justice and about the right to abortion as a health and justice issue and not as a moral issue.”

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