Article on Abortion Restrictions in Latin American, The Guardian

Thank the Catholic church for terrifying abortion restrictions in Latin America

Women in these countries are fighting for the right to choose what happens to their bodies and we need to support them

Chilean President Sebastián Pinera said an 11-year-old girl who is having a baby conceived by rape has shown ‘depth and maturity’. Photograph: Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty

States have adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and the same number enacted in all of 2012. These numbers are alarming and many American women are rightfully worried. I’m terrified by the trend.

If women in the US aren’t careful, we might find ourselves in a similar situation as our southern neighbours in Latin America and the Caribbean, which still have extreme abortion restrictions (pdf). Although most Latin American countries are supposedly secular, the Catholic church continues to insert itself into governments. Abortion is broadly legal in only six countries, which means it’s permitted either without restriction as to reason or on socioeconomic grounds. These countries only account for less than 5% of the region’s women aged 15 to 44. Because of these limitations, many women resort to “traditional practitioners” who use unsafe methods and purchase abortion-inducing drugs from pharmacists and other vendors.

The World Health Organization estimates that in Latin America and the Caribbean a staggering 12% of all maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions in 2008. In the name of religion, girls as young as 9 years old have been inhumanely denied abortions though their pregnancies were life- threatening. Their family members and doctors have even been threatened with excommunication.

Why is Latin America so far behind the US and Europe in terms of abortion rights? In her article “The Politics of Abortion in Latin America“, Cora Fernandez Anderson points out that while feminist movements were gaining momentum in Europe and North America in the 1960s and ’70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars.

Mónica Arango Olaya, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Center for Reproductive Rights, however, believes it’s more complicated than that:

While there have been dictatorships, there have also been revolutions. Supposedly, these ideas should be accompanied by abortion rights. Though there has also been strong feminist movements in many countries, reproductive rights have yet to be translated into state laws.

She uses the example of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, a country that later banned abortion in 2006.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons Latin American women are still struggling for the basic human right to control their own bodies, but the indelible influence of the Catholic influence paired with a tumultuous political history has clearly been a dangerous combination for women. But Olaya, who has litigated several groundbreaking cases before international human rights bodies and courts in Latin America, says there have been significant advancements and legal victories in the past few years. There is hope, no doubt, but these women still face a long and arduous journey.

Here is a brief list of a few countries with the most stringent abortion laws and the consequences of their legislation.

Costa Rica

Although Costa Rica is considered to be one of the most prosperous of Latin America countries because of its tradition of egalitarianism and civilian democracy, and investment in health and education, it is far behind in terms of reproductive rights. Abortion in Costa Rica is illegal in most cases, although the county’s penal code allows for the procedure when a woman’s life or health is at risk. This seems to be only true in theory, however. Recently, Aurora, 32, was denied the therapeutic abortion she requested though she was carrying a foetus with a fatal impairment and suffering from depression and physical pain. In a testimonial provided to the Center for Reproductive Rights, Aurora writes:

But the worst moment of the ultrasound was when I saw my baby’s twisted back and his organs exposed. … What an image. I will never be able to forget it.

El Salvador

El Salvador’s ban on abortion is considered to be one of the most extreme in the world. The procedure is even prohibited to save a pregnant woman’s life and the government imposes harsh criminal penalties on both women and their physicians. Anyone who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for up to eight years. Most women, however, end up being prosecuted and sentenced for aggravated homicide, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Recently, Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who was five months pregnant with a non-viable anencephalic (without a brain) foetus and was suffering from complications related to lupus and kidney disease was denied a potentially life-saving abortion. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered El Salvador officials to allow her medical team to take all necessary steps to preserve her life and, after 27 weeks of pregnancy, she was given a C-section. Her baby was born without a brain and died soon after.


Chile is one of only five countries worldwide to prohibit abortion in all instances. Although it once allowed therapeutic abortion, it was abolished by the military dictatorship in 1989. Abortion is illegal even in the case of rape, foetal malformation and ectopic pregnancy. Last year, the senate rejected three bills that would have eased the absolute ban. In 2010, Claudia Pizarro, a 28-year-old woman was denied both an abortion and treatment for cancer despite being pregnant with an anencephalic foetus and recently, an 11-year-old girl, Belen, became pregnant after she was repeatedly raped over the course of two years by her mother’s partner. At 14 weeks along, Belen said she wanted to give birth to her baby and President Sebastián Pinera praised her by saying her decision showed “depth and maturity”.


In 2006, Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega, once a supporter of abortion rights, passed a complete ban on abortion that offered no exceptions for women’s health, victims of rape or incest or women whose lives are at risk. In 2010, a 27-year-old woman named Amalia was admitted to a hospital and was diagnosed with an advanced case of cancer that had metastasised and may have spread to her breasts, brain and lungs. Because she was pregnant, she was told she couldn’t be prescribed an aggressive chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment. Amalia delivered a severely malformed baby at seven months and she lived another 17 months. In 2009, Delegates from Amnesty International who visited the country said young girls subjected to sexual violence by family or friends are forced to give birth even when they are carrying their own brothers and sisters. The ban continues to this day though the Amnesty International Report claims the law is in conflict with the Nicaraguan obstetric rules and protocols issued by the ministry of health, which mandates therapeutic abortions in specific cases.

Despite the bleakness of these cases, women in these countries continue fighting for the right to choose what happens to their bodies and we need to support them, even from afar.

Article on Abortion Rights in West Virginia, Salon

West Virginia could be the next abortion battleground

The state’s attorney general has launched what one advocate calls an “inquisition” into abortion clinics


Topics: Abortion, West Virginia, patrick morrisey,

We’ve seen abortion rights challenged all over the country, and now West Virginia looks like the next battleground state. On June 17th, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent letters to the state’s two abortion clinics asking them to answer 17 questions about abortion regulation and medical procedures. The questions included:

  • “Are your physicians required to use ultrasound technology when performing a dilation and curettage procedure for midterm pregnancy?”
  • “At what gestational age do you refuse to perform an elective abortion procedure?”
  • “What are your policies should a patient revoke consent at any point before or during the procedure?”

The Women’s Health Center and Surgicenter, both located in Charleston, submitted short responses to Morrisey’s inquiry, but would not answer the attorney general’s specific questions about medical procedures performed at the facilities.

And many reproductive rights organizations, health care professionals, and activists are criticizing  Morrisey for overstepping his boundaries as Attorney General with this measure — they argue that he’s prying into medical procedures that aren’t part of his purview. “By launching an inquisition, the Attorney General is fulfilling a right wing campaign pledge to protect life,” says Margaret Chapman, executive director of West Virginia Free. “He promised to be a pro-life candidate, but that doesn’t have a place in the Attorney General’s office.”

Chapman says Morrisey’s actions mirror those of Virginia’s Attorney General Cuccinelli in his attempts to insert himself politically in the practice of medicine. Not only did he champion legislation to shut down Virginia’s abortion clinics, Cuccinelli was also instrumental in the transvaginal ultrasound bill that was proposed and partially passed in Virginia last year.

Historically, West Virginia has been much more liberal than Virginia. The death penalty was outlawed in 1965 and their state constitution guarantees more rights to health and safety.  In 1993, abortion became covered by Medicaid as a result of Women’s Health Center v. Panepinto ruling.

Recently, however, right wing money has been supporting coal mining and extractive industries, turning West Virginia into a more conservative state.

“We’ve been reminding Mr. Morrisey that we’re different from Virginia,” says Chapman. “As the Attorney General, he either doesn’t know the laws and regulations of our state or has launched an inquisition based on political agenda. Both answers are unsettling.”

Dr. Coy Flowers, president of Fairness-WV’s Board of Directors, responded to the Attorney General with a letter reminding him that all women’s health providers in West Virginia are subject to certification by the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (a separate body) believes the government should not interfere with the patient-physician relationship without a substantial public health justification.

“A woman’s health is not just vitally important to her, but to the sustainability of the community and family unit,” says Flowers. “For government officials to start the process of trying to intervene in her decisions for herself is not healthy for anyone. We know that these healthcare providers and regulated like all other healthcare providers in the state. This is misleading people of West Virginia and wasting tax payer money.”

Despite the advice from medical experts and general outcry from the community, the Attorney General does have many supporters. The anti-abortion group Family Policy Council of West Virginia recently started the Illuminate campaign, which the group calls an effort to ensure safety in the abortion industry. In West Virginia, Medicaid pays for abortion for low-income women and group is against both private and Medicaid-funded abortions.

Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life, says her organization is not part of the campaign, but agrees with their work. “Our positions is that if you have a medical facility doing invasive medical procedures, there should be regulations that protect the people who are going to these places,” Franz says. “Everyone assumes that these facilities are being regulated. We don’t know why this is causing such a fury.”

But Jim Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in West Virginia who has been working with the Women’s Health Center since 1974, doesn’t believe Morrisey’s measures are about safety. “When I see this attack on the Women’s Health Center and reproductive rights, it hits a big nerve for me. “He’s [Morrissey] here to interpret the law and everything going on at the Women’s Health Center is legal.”

Lewis has been working closely with reproductive rights groups and other clergy members to prepare for a rally at the state capitol on August 20th. “It’s hard to get religious people to speak out. Many are afraid because it’s a hot-button issue. There are a lot of meetings behind the scenes. We have to find a way to mobilize,” he says.

College student and activist Katelyn Campbell has also been preparing for the rally using social media to recruit young people. She says she’s been angry and upset about what is happening in her home state. “I’m West Virginian born and bred and I want to come back and raise my family,” she says, “but I don’t know if I can come back if this is how they’re going to treat women.”

Article on Abortion Rights Campaign, NBC Latino

Latinas part of “new generation” of abortion rights activists


by Erika L. Sánchez
11:22 am on 07/28/2013

This Tuesday several reproductive rights organizations came together in Washington D.C. for the launch of All Above All, a new campaign aimed at ensuring low-income women can get safe, affordable abortion care, including working to restore public insurance coverage.

“All Above All stands for women who are struggling to get by, to ensure that they too can make their own reproductive health decisions without political interference,” says Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA. Johnson says this campaign is not only about abortion access, but about improving health care in general. “We need to open up all the different options to our communities,” she says.

“We’re targeting the new American electorate. We wanted to stop playing defense and be proactive,” says Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health, who says the campaign is seeking to support young people and women of color in particular.

RELATED: Strong emotions as Texas passes controversial abortion bill

González-Rojas says that Latinas already have a hard time accessing adequate health care without the added obstacles stemming from recent clinic closures throughout the country. She says that many Hispanic women also have language barriers and immigrant women face additional challenges because of their legal status. Latinas are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies and have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and are the group at most risk of being uninsured.

In addition to creating awareness and visibility, one of the main objectives of the campaign is working to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1977 to restrict Medicaid coverage of abortion.

RELATED: Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion

The original amendment only allowed federal funding of abortion in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. The restrictions have been modified several times throughout the years, and as it currently stands, only allows federal funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, which is now restricted to “a physical disorder, physical injury or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.” The restrictions will also continue under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“The Hyde Amendment has been used as a tool by politicians to prevent women from making decisions about their health care,” says González-Rojas.

Jessica Arons, president of Reproductive HealthTechnologies Project, believes that not challenging the Hyde Amendment has been a disservice to the reproductive rights movement. She says the idea for the All Above All campaign began a few years ago when several reproductive rights organizations came together to reassess the debate.

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Choice USA, Black Women’s Health Imperative, The Center for Reproductive Rights, and the National Council of Jewish Women are just a few of the organizations that are taking part in the campaign.

Johnson says that in her work at Choice USA, she sees a lot of diverse college students eager to participate in the abortion debate. “They are excited to champion abortion coverage for low-income women,” she says. “Young people have been looking for a platform.”

The campaign, which uses bright colors and encourages supporters to post “selfies” on their Facebook page, is geared toward a young demographic. “We are engaging a new generation of activists,” says Arons.

“These are the organizations that are lifting up the voices of a diverse constituency,” says González-Rojas. “This is about creating excitement. We’re really thrilled about this campaign taking off.”

Op-Ed on Texas Abortion Bill, The Guardian

I’m tired of people telling me what to do with my body


I’m a Mexican-American daughter of immigrants, and like many Latinas, I grew up being taught that I have little control of my body. Traditional Mexican culture teaches us that sex, masturbation, abortion and even birth control are sinful. And although my environment taught me that sexual women were whores, I felt sexualized by men in my community at a very early age.

The anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric in the United States then tells us that our bodies are dangerous – we are darkening the American population through our anchor babies and general fecundity. Ironically, the US government perpetually restricts our access to birth control and abortion, so we often have little control over our reproduction. Like so many women of color, I grew up confused by all of these frenetic and contradictory messages. I grew up feeling like my body was literally up for grabs.

Last week, despite a marathon filibuster, the outrage of reproductive rights organizations, and crowds and crowds of pro-choice demonstrators at the state capitol, Texas passed one of its most stringent abortion bills in the United States. The new bill, SB5, will ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors will also be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. These new requirements will cause the closure of 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics, so abortion will essentially be banned in the state of Texas.

The message is clear: our government doesn’t care about women’s health. Politicians can say all they want about trying to protect women from the evils of abortion clinics by enforcing these new standards, but most of us aren’t buying it. While the rich will continue to have safe access to abortion as they always have, poor women of color will be the ones who suffer. Women in the Valley and West Texas will have to drive hundreds of miles to get to an abortion clinic. Latinas along the border will be the most affected.

Sadly, these kinds of measures aren’t anything new to women of color. Our bodies have always been policed by our culture and by our government. A new study from the University of Michigan found that in the last century, patients with Spanish surnames in California psychiatric institutions and homes for the developmentally disabled were disproportionately sterilized at rates ranging between 20 and 30%. Another recent report found that the California prison system sterilized as many as 250 women from 1997 to 2010.

The US government has also admitted to the forced sterilization of Black and American Indian women. Between 1973 and 1976, Indian Health Service regions sterilized 3,406 American Indian women without their permission, and between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people the state decided were “feeble-minded” or undesirable, many of which were poor black women. And these are only a few examples. If I wrote every instance in which non-white women were treated like they were subhuman, I would get a serious case of carpal tunnel.

It’s incredibly confusing to be a woman in a country that simultaneously tells you not to “breed” and restricts your access to birth control and abortion. Who the hell understands you, America?

This bill will cause a new kind of desperation for “undesirables”, for the women who already live on the fringes. Many even fear women will travel to Mexico for the abortion pill. I’m dumbfounded by this. Because my parents left Mexico to provide us with a better life, the idea of people crossing the border to Mexico for any sort of healthcare is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I grew up believing that this was the best country in the world, and despite all of my gripes, I thought there was no better place to be a woman. I resent that all these new anti-choice bills are making me question my once unwavering faith.

Although SB5 is inhumane to all women, it will disproportionately affect Latinas, the ethnic group with the highest teen pregnancy rates, the most likely to be uninsured, and the hardest hit by the wage gap. I can’t help but fear what’s in store for us next. How can we not take that personally?

In many ways, very little has changed since I was a girl. It’s 2013 and I feel as unsafe and frustrated as ever. Like so many women, I’m tired of old men telling me what my body means and what it can and can’t do. I’m tired of the whole world deciding what’s best for me and I wonder if my country will ever trust me with my own body.

Article on Texas Abortion Bill, NBC Latino

Texas abortion law fails to pass by minutes due to woman Senator’s filibuster

In what pro-choice women and groups are calling a real victory, Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis stood in front of a podium and spoke for 11 straight hours in order to stop Texas legislators from voting on a bill that would have restricted virtually all abortions in the state.   As the legislators went to finally vote on the bill, over a 1,000 protesters interrupted the vote for 15 minutes until the voting deadline passed at midnight, thus blocking the bill from being voted on.

“It shows the determination and spirit of Texas women,” Davis told the AP.

The new bill, #SB5, would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and forced many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Doctors would also would have been required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

“If this passes, abortion would be virtually banned in the state of Texas, and many women could be forced to resort to dangerous and unsafe measures,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and daughter of the late former Texas governor Ann Richards.

In her filibuster, Senator Davis denounced the bill as a “profound irresponsibility and the raw abuse of power” in the Texas Senate.

RELATED: Planned Parenthood sues Arizona; says new law restricts access to women’s health care

Prior to the vote’s failure, pro-choice advocates were very worried.  “This is incredibly disappointing for millions of women,” says Rochelle Tafolla, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. “Texans don’t want this bill. They know and believe women and not politicians should be making these decisions.”

Governor Rick Perry, who has in the past called for an end to abortion, believes that 20 weeks is a moral deadline, citing disputed studies that hold a fetus can experience pain after that point. Arizona recently passed a similar ban that has been overturned in federal court.

Since May 1st of this year, many abortion restrictions have already been put into effect in Texas.  A woman must now undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and the provider must show and describe the image to the woman. There is also a 24 hour waiting period and state-directed counseling with information designed to discourage an abortion.

Though several other conservative states have tried to implement strict limits on abortion, these recent measures in Texas drawn so much attention because of the size the state and combination of bills .

“This bill will shut down 90% of abortion providers. In the Valley and West Texas, those women will have to drive hundreds of miles,” says Tafolla. “Latinas along the border will be the hardest hit. Unfortunately, politicians and the governor are pushing these to score political points.”

Stephanie Rendon, a pro life Latina from Houston, said prior to the vote that she believed passing the bill would be a victory for Latinas. “Abortion clinics don’t have the same standards that other clinics have,” she says. “As a result of the Gosnell case, everyone is finding out what’s happening in the industry. The largest [abortion] facility is in my city and this isn’t something I’m proud of.”

RELATED: Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion

But Amanda Hernandez, a pro choice activist, recently gave a testimony of her own experience as a struggling single mother at the State Affairs Hearing on the bill. She says she was pro life until she became pregnant, lost her partner, and became homeless. “They don’t value the poor or the life of the mother,” she says. “They don’t pass legislation to help people.”

Hernandez had said that if the bill passed, people in the Valley region of Texas would be most affected. “They will be cutting off funding to so many of these clinics that help low income people,” she says. “These bills are not pro life. These bills are pro birth.”

Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion, NBC Latino

Roe v. Wade 40 years later: Latinas weigh in on abortion

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and although the ruling still stands, and President Obama has vowed to protect access to birth control and abortion, women’s reproductive rights continue to be challenged.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 provisions related to reproductive health and rights in 2012, and one-third of these new provisions, 43 in 19 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services. It is the second highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in a year.

These restrictions continue despite evidence of changing attitudes towards abortion. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989. “The dialogue we have had in the last year has contributed … to inform and shift attitudes,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff.

Latinos might be a large portion of that percentage. According to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the media’s notion that Latinos are socially conservative is also inaccurate. “Latinos are typically portrayed as very religious and very Catholic. The reality is that 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas have used birth control banned by the Vatican,” says executive director Jessica González-Rojas.

poll conducted on behalf of NLIRH and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project(RHTP) also found that 74 percent of Latino registered voters agree that a woman has a right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering.

“Historically, the perspective of Latinos hasn’t changed. The Latino population isn’t in favor of limiting anyone’s options,” says Lorena Garcia, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

But some Latinas disagree with these findings. “I think it’s totally inaccurate,” says Mercedes Arzu Wilson, founder and President of Family of the Americas Foundation, an organization that promotes natural family planning.“I wonder how they asked the question,” she says, “because most Hispanics are the ones who buy our materials.”

RELATED: Decision 2012: How parties differ on women’s health, abortion and contraception

Low-income women and women of color are rarely part of the abortion debate, but on the 40thanniversary of Roe w. Wade, many Latinas around the country will be reflecting on these new findings and discussing their thoughts on abortion.

“It’s inconceivable that any country that calls itself civilized or advanced could legalize the destruction of innocent lives,” Wilson says.

González-Rojas says that on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade her organization “will recognize that there’s a right women can utilize, but for the women we work with, accessing that right seems to be a challenge.” And because of these barriers, her organization has developed holistic approach to reproductive health. “We have a lens that incorporates issues of class, race, immigration, and sexual orientation.” She says they are also launching a new campaign called “Yo Te Apoyo” to give a voice to those who support women making a difficult choice about their pregnancy.

Maricela Lupercio, director of Latinos 4 Life, a nonprofit providing education and outreach for Latino youth and families, says she’s very passionate about counseling young girls who are pregnant and is reminded of Roe v. Wade every day. On the 40th anniversary, she says she’ll “be reflecting on the 55 million people who were not born and the many men and women who are mourning the loss of their child. I will continue to reach out to Latino families to continue the discussion.”

Some Latinas, like Garcia, will be celebrating, but ambivalently. “This means that we’ve gone 40 years and we still haven’t ensured full access to everyone. It’s a time to celebrate, but it’s also a time of reflection. I hope that across the country we’re all doing that.”