Latin America is making progress in legalizing abortion while the United States is reducing access. Which give?

In a remarkable turn of events, Latin America is opening abortion access to more and more women while the United States is backsliding.

And it happened quickly: in just over a year, three of Latin America’s most populous countries – Argentina, Mexico and Colombia – decriminalized abortion, breaking with decades of precedent and powerful religious influence from the Catholic Church and the growing evangelical community. movement.

How could the abortion access paradigm evolve so quickly in such a socially conservative region? And now that a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade looms on the horizon In the United States, can American women’s rights activists learn something from their Latin American counterparts as they fight to keep abortion legal?

Reproductive rights activists have been working and organizing in the region for decades, but the trigger for the current momentum dates back to Argentina in late 2020 when the Argentina’s Congress has approved a bill to legalize abortion for up to 14 weeks. Argentina then became the first major country in the region to expand access to abortion so dramatically. The symbol of women’s rights activists were green bandanas with the slogan “Sex education to decide, contraceptives not to abort, legal abortion not to die”. And the so-called green wave – “la marea verde” – was born.

An abortion rights activist wears an iconic green handkerchief during a protest to decriminalize abortion, outside Argentina’s Congress during a government-ordered lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Buenos Aires, May 28, 2020.Natasha Pisarenko/Associated Press

The wave grew as feminist organizations and activists in other Latin American countries stepped up the pressure, taking inspiration from Argentina’s victory and borrowing green as the movement’s symbol. The color quickly became synonymous with activists’ demands for greater protection for women and support for their right to choose. In the fall of 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that the criminalization of abortion was unconstitutional, setting a major precedent that paved the way for the procedure to be legalized across the country. (Five states in Mexico, plus Mexico City, had already decriminalized abortion up to 12 weeks.)

And now the latest country to join the green wave is Colombia, where, in a landmark decision last week, the country’s top court decriminalized abortion for up to 24 weeks. It’s an extraordinary winning trio, especially as the United States Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could very well overturn Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, restrictions on abortion continue to emerge. Case in point: Texas, where one of the toughest abortion laws in the country went into effect last September. The law not only prohibits most abortions, but also allows any private citizen to sue doctors who perform an abortion or anyone else who “aids and abets” one.

The irony is not lost on many legal experts who follow reproductive rights issues: Roe v. Wade inspired abortion rights advocates in Latin America for many years. And now that rights are being chipped away in the United States, the proverbial roles have turned: it’s time for American feminist activists to be inspired and learn from their peers south of the border.

According to Ximena Casas, Americas researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, one of the biggest lessons is that activists in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia have pointed out that a ban on abortion in few exceptions (such as rape) – which for years has been the norm in some Latin American countries with different variations – have not been enough to keep women safe.

“The younger generations are saying, why [allow abortion] only in these cases? Casas said in an interview. “This model of ‘You can have this right, but only in these circumstances’ is ineffective because it does not prevent unsafe abortions. And this especially affects poor women, and this still often generates criminal proceedings.

“The objective is to completely remove abortion from the penal code. Latin American activists say, “Why does this have to be regulated by criminal law? It is not fair.’ ”

Casas said conversations have already started between Latin American feminist organizations and women’s rights activists here. An important element is solidarity – Argentine, Mexican and Colombian activists and legal experts have all leaned on each other to fight their own national battles. “A big part of it is understanding that abortion is not a privilege but a right for everyone, and it can’t be reserved for a few states,” Casas said.

She’s right. The combined population of Argentina, Mexico and Colombia – a whopping 225 million people – now has access to legalized abortion, and it didn’t happen by mistake. Abortion rights and reproductive autonomy are issues that affect us all, men and women, and whether you live in Dallas, Cartagena or Boston.


Marcela García can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @marcel_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.