For decades, women’s rights activists in Latin America have looked to the United States as a model in their fight to reduce restrictions on abortion in countries with a great religious tradition.
But after the landmark ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalizing abortion at the federal level, some think American activists should now turn to their counterparts south of the border to face the reality of the annulment of Roe v. Wade.
“From Mexico we have a lot of experience,” said Rebeca Ramos, a lawyer and director of GIRE, the organization behind the judicial process in the country. “Taking into consideration the current situation in the United States, it is something we can share with them.”
Latin America is immersed in what has been called a “green wave” that has led countries like Mexico, Colombia and Argentina to eliminate important restrictions on abortion in recent years.
For decades, green has been the identifying color of the abortion rights movement in Latin America, which took root in the 1980s in Argentina, a country that until recently had some of the strictest bans in the region.
Argentine activist Susana Chiarotti explained that she proposed adopting that color for the cause in 2003 as a way to change the narrative around the issue.
It is “the color that represents life, nature,” said this 76-year-old activist who, she added, was trying to “rescue that we were the ones who defended life.”
Chiarotti said that she and other activists often drew inspiration from the United States, using for example the language of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that was overturned in 2022, and borrowing tactics from both the country’s feminist movement and the anti-government movement. abortion.
Long fight in Latin America
Just as conservatives worked for decades to gradually reduce access to abortion and fill courts with conservative judges, pro-abortion groups in Latin America have taken a similar long-term proach, with little progress.
While grassroots organizations mobilized protesters to take to the streets, leaders sought support from international human rights groups and began the battle in court. And, at the same time, they shared strategies with organizations immersed in their own struggles in other countries.
“We have gone little by little due to the enormous obstacles we have had to overcome,” said Chiarotti.
Some Latin American countries such as Colombia and Ecuador have since expanded access to abortion and eased their restrictions. Others, such as Chile, have considered similar measures, but have not yet taken concrete steps.
However, in nations such as El Salvador and Guatemala, the veto is total or almost total and the prospects for change in the near future are slim, which shows the long road that still remains to be traveled in the region.
Legalization in Mexico
Pro-abortion groups in Mexico scored their first major victory 16 years ago when the cital, Mexico City, became the first jurisdiction in the country to decriminalize the procedure.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court of Justice determined that abortion could not be considered a crime in the state of Coahuila, on the northern border. A gradual, state-by-state process of decriminalization culminated last week when Aguascalientes, in the center of the country, became the 12th to do so.
The sentence handed down this week by the high court refers to a case presented by GIRE, one of the Mexican groups that collaborated with Chiarotti in the beginning.
The ruling is not as radical or immediate as Roe v. Wade was: it does not automatically decriminalize the procedure in the 20 states that still include abortion in their criminal codes. But it does force federal health care providers, who serve 70% of the population, to perform pregnancy terminations.
Furthermore, it supposes a drastic change in a predominantly Catholic society that could galvanize activists across the country.
Despite the proximity to Texas, where termination of pregnancy is heavily restricted, few expect the ruling to result in American women coming to the country for abortions.
Cathy Torres, head of the Frontera Fund, a reproductive health organization near the border, in McAllen, Texas, said the closest place for women in her community who want to have the procedure is New Mexico, a 14-hour drive away.
“Abortions have always existed,” Torres noted. “People have always found a way to live in a border area. They are not going to suddenly start leaving for Mexico.”
But some, like Veronica Cruz, from the Las Libres group, based in central Mexico, affirm that the accumulation of actions by Mexican activists have offered Americans more alternatives for care both in Mexico and remotely, which is likely to only increase. over time.
“The Court’s decision represents more opportunities for women in restrictive areas of the United States,” she stated.
From “teleabortion” to legal practice
For 23 years, Cruz’s organization has formed networks to provide “teleabortion” services, which means women undergo medical abortions on the advice of activists via call-in. This was a form of resistance against Mexican laws, she noted.
Some calls for help also came from the United States, mostly from Texas, and since Roe’s cancellation, the number has increased from about 10 a day to around 100. Cruz said these networks and outreach on the ground will be crucial. for American activists.
“We should not abandon the streets and (we have to) continue working woman by woman, house by house, family by family, community by community,” she said. “Institutionalization is always a risk (for our work) to be demolished.”
GIRE’s Ramos also believes that the Mexican experience has lessons to offer US activists now fighting for abortion rights state by state. According to him, it is vital to get support little by little with an eye toward achieve political changes in the long term.
“I think something we can share is precisely the need, in the United States, to think about strategies more at the local level,” said Ramos.
The most religious and conservative Mexicans continue to firmly oppose to expanding access to abortion. In some cases, there are American groups that have expanded their activism to Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
“The legalization of abortion erodes the foundations of the rule of law, distorts the concept and practice of human rights,” the leadership of the Mexican Catholic Church said on Thursday.
Thus, the groups that defend the right to terminate a pregnancy are not the only ones interested in what hpens north of the border. Activists from the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived, for example, take a long-term view of this week’s court decision.
“We will not stop,” said the group’s director, Irma Barrientos. “Let’s remember what has hpened in the United States. “After more than 40 years, the Supreme Court reversed the abortion situation and we will not stop until the right to life is guaranteed again in Mexico from the moment of conception.”