Abortion legislation in Latin America
By Belen Gonzalez Leggire
In Latin America, women can be sent to prison for illegally terminating a pregnancy or even for suffering a miscarriage. Belen Gonzalez Leggire explores the effect that abortion legislation has on women’s health and on their life chances throughout the region.
2018 was yet another year with much to think about for the feminist. In May, Ireland finally repealed the Eighth Amendment, a subsection of their Constitution added in 1983 that gave the pregnant woman and the fetus an equal right to life. This cruel law has made terminating a pregnancy illegal in the country for the last 35 years. Simultaneously, in South America, Argentina had a chance to join the small group of countries in the region which have legalised abortion. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. And in Brazil, despite the “#EleNão” (#NotHim) campaign – a social media movement of women rallying against inequality and the election of a far-right presidential candidate – Jair Bolsonaro won the elections, giving the far-right more power in the region as a whole.
If we want to talk about the status of women in one of the most unequal parts of the world, we need only review the different abortion legislation that exists there. Uruguay, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guyana and Mexico City have the most progressive legislation – in these cases, terminations are permitted (with parental authorisation if needed and a gestational age limit in some cases). However, 90% of women live with no legislation in this matter. This results in women being forced to seek illegal and dangerous abortions.
A few years ago, The Guardian reviewed the case of a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay who was raped and became pregnant. The news that despite the circumstances, this young girl was not able to get an abortion highlighted the problem of abortion legislation in Paraguay, and shocked people across the world. American feminist author and journalist Jessica Valenti asked herself; “Who in their right mind would think it reasonable that a 10-year-old child who became pregnant after being raped carry a pregnancy to term?” Many of us asked ourselves the same question – and yet the country’s health minister and the rest of their administration thought this was reasonable and so the girl became a very young mother.
Feminist sociologist and psychoanalyst Nancy Chodorow1 (1978) offers an explanation as to why this barbaric legislation still exists. She claims that motherhood is the last excuse the patriarchy has in terms of perpetuating the sexual division of labour. When we combine patriarchy and capitalism, the melting point is the need to continually produce a cheap workforce. That is why capitalism needs us to be mothers, no matter under what circumstances – even if you are a 10-year-old girl raped by your stepfather and pregnant – patriarchy and capitalism need the newborn.
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