Abortion Rights Are Not Solely an American Issue

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Issue 16, Volume 112

By Nelli Rojas-Cessa 

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade leak sparked outrage in fear of regression for women’s reproductive rights. The U.S. is not the only place where women’s rights are being stomped on. In El Salvador, abortion was legal and then made illegal. In many other Latin American countries, abortion was never legalized at all. American feminists are continuing to fight their way for the standard of equal rights, a struggle that Latin American feminists are also fighting—a struggle that should not remain unseen.

El Salvador strikes an uncanny parallel with the U.S.’s recent scare of regression. In 1973, the country’s penal code banned abortions unless the woman’s life was endangered, the fetus had a serious congenital disorder, the pregnancy resulted from rape or statutory rape, or the abortion was a result of negligence. In 1998, the new penal code, which is currently enforced, removed all exceptions to the abortion ban. Women who underwent the procedure and the people who administered the abortion were subject to several years in prison. In addition to their sentences for having an abortion, many women were also convicted of “aggravated homicide,” as El Salvador recognizes human life from the moment of conception. This conviction meant women could face around 30 years in prison for having an abortion. This law outrageously includes women who have experienced miscarriages and still births, the consequences of which can also include imprisonment.

Other countries in Latin America are also still in the process of achieving abortion rights. Honduras has a total ban on abortion and emergency contraception, Guatemala has an abortion ban with life-threatening excpetions, Nicaragua has a total ban on abortion, Mexico decriminalized abortion just last year, and the Dominican Republic still has a total ban on abortion.

To provide context for the lack of women’s rights, Latin America has deep-rooted connections with Catholic Christianity and machismo culture. Most Latin American people are Catholic or at least Christian, and some countries even have Christian political parties in their governments. Similarly, in the U.S., Christianity has often been used as an argument to oppose abortion rights and has also influenced the overwhelmingly Christian U.S. Congress members. Machismo culture, in combination with domestic violence and gang activity, causes Latin America’s alarmingly high rates of femicide. These crimes are allowed to continue due to lack of police and judicial enforcement in Latin American countries. These issues have corrupt underlying causes, but blatant sexism permeates all of them.

Reform obviously has to happen on a much larger, international scale, and that change will take generations and millions of people. However, action can be taken even sooner in terms of representation in education. We should start off with widening our high school education to include Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, and more. Though textbooks may detail England’s suffrage movement in the 20th century, they fail to even mention feminism anywhere outside of the West. This lack of representation must be at the very least acknowledged and then addressed.

Gender inequality can’t be solved by one single institution or law. Women who were killed due to gender-related issues in Latin America were failed by police, government officials, hospitals, justice systems, and their society in general. Any chance possible for supporting gender equality as students or U.S. citizens should be taken both locally and internationally, even if we are not able to contribute directly. Reform must happen at all levels, as misogyny has persisted in Latin American culture and administrations for almost all of history. This problem is a systemic issue. As we continue to fight to maintain women’s rights in the U.S., we should acknowledge the fight in Latin America.