Fri Feb 03, 2023
February 03, 2023

Central America | The Fight for Legal Abortion Against Authoritarian and Conservative Governments

September 28th is commemorated in Latin America as the Day for the Legalization of Abortion, and every year more women and gestating people progress in making this a day of struggle and global mobilization.

In the last few years, the fight for abortion in our continent has had ups and downs—from the important advances in Argentina and Colombia, to the setbacks in the United States where the Supreme Court moved forward with rescinding the right to abortion in several states, which will directly affect millions of Central American women that will be prosecuted for getting abortions as well as for being migrants.

The same thing happened recently in Chile, when the right organized a large campaign against abortion rights that had been included in the newly proposed constitution, bringing hate speech against abortion into the political dispute around the referendum.

In Central America, the fight for abortion is an important necessity for millions of women that don’t have access to basic sexual and reproductive health services, while governments and conservative sectors aim to control their bodies and choices even more.

This necessity is centered on the millions of poor and oppressed women and gestating people to whom capitalism gives no opportunity to access adequate sexual education or standard and emergency methods of contraception, and who are also at higher risk of sexual violence and of the human trafficking rings that permeate the region due to forced migration.

Laws to Criminalize Abortion Won’t Make It Disappear

Three out of the five countries of the American continent that have a total ban on abortion and include its prosecution in their penal code are in Central America. Out of these, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador have the harshest sentences for abortion.

In the rest of the countries, the reality is not very different—in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama, they only allow abortion if the mother’s life is in danger, but whoever tries to exercise this right is faced with healthcare systems that don’t provide adequate care.

The prosecution by these various governments does not cause a reduction in abortions in the region. According to data published before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were an average of 5,390,000 pregnancies between 2015 and 2019 in Central America, 2,880,000 of which were not planned, and 1,320,000 of which ended in abortion. This data shows an increase from 2008, as the Central American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published data that estimated there were 1,000,000 annual abortions in the region that year.

This situation has become much more dramatic since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which sent all countries in the region into an enormous economic crisis. One of the principal effects was the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs held by women, which threw them into extreme poverty and caused violence in their homes.

The current economic crisis has also meant an enormous defunding of social assistance programs and healthcare systems in different countries, which has also left people more vulnerable. In this context, both the pandemic and the economic crisis that caused this defunding have affected women, as access to contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health care has been even more limited.

The same thing happens with the large waves of migrant women, who face situations of sexual violence on their journey across different borders, which are increased by the networks of coyotes and migrant smuggling. These women who come from Africa, Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, and other countries encounter laws and healthcare systems that force them to carry pregnancies that result from the assaults that they suffer on their journeys.

Rise of Authoritarianism and Conservatism in the Region Puts the Struggle in a Difficult Moment

Currently, the region as a whole is experiencing a series of governments with authoritarian traits that place the struggle for women’s rights in general in a much more difficult situation.

In addition to laws that brutally prosecute women that get abortions, the very repressive nature of the region’s governments marks a very difficult moment in the fight for abortion and other democratic rights in the area.

Such as the repressive nature of governments like Nicaragua that, since the popular uprising in 2018, has jailed and deported hundreds of thousands of people as a result of persecution and political repression. The Frente Sandinista (Sandinista Front) has formed a national “pro-life” agreement with diverse religious and conservative groups, even after participating in the elimination of therapeutic abortion in 2006, which was legal for over 100 years in the country.

Something similar is happening in El Salvador, as Bukele’s government has jailed over 40,000 people so far this year under a state of emergency that persecutes young men and women in working-class neighborhoods with the excuse of their war against gangs, but has also put armed forces in a privileged position, making it a complicated situation for social movement and women’s organizations.

But these regimes that have strong authoritarian overtones, and others that are less intense such as that of Rodrigo Chaves in Costa Rica, Cortizo in Panamá, or Giammattei in Guatemala, share in common a strong link to conservative sectors with ties to churches, especially neo-Pentecostal churches that look to impose their agendas against abortion within the context of their political involvement in their countries.

Rodrigo Chaves’ behavior of seeking to revise the technical norm that allows therapeutic abortion in Costa Rica is an example of this, because less than a year after implementing this norm that allows abortion if the mother’s life is threatened, the government is trying to eliminate it during political negotiations with the New Republic party in congress. In spite of that, women continue resisting and have responded with a campaign to collect signatures to promote a bill for legal abortion.

Giammattei has deepened ties with the Heritage Foundation, which is known for their fight against abortion in the United States and with whom he aims to “strengthen traditional values and reaffirm the commitment to promote public policy”. This in the midst of the government’s effort to combat the waves of migrants, the fight for abortion, and the alliances that reclaim indigenous people’s rights.

As for Honduras’ government, Xiomara Castro came to power with the promise to “empower women” and relax the country’s absolute ban on abortion (she proposed to allow it under limited circumstances), and eliminate the ban on the morning after pill. But once in power, she has not taken up the topic of sexual and reproductive rights of women.

This fact lays bare the hypocritical nature of how abortion rights are dealt with in the region, where the elites and churches make it seem like abortions don’t really exist, but the truth is that while poor women are persecuted and criminalized for abortion, rich women can access this right in private local clinics or by traveling abroad where it is legal. The same thing happens when leaders of human trafficking rings facilitate abortions so that their victims can continue to work.

The Socialist Solution: Only Way to Win Abortion Rights in a General, Effective, and Permanent Way

Despite the fact that the situation of the struggle for legal abortion in the region is very complicated due to the governments and laws of each country, the truth is that women have not stopped fighting to improve their conditions by creating networks of support and solidarity in their neighborhoods, universities, and workplaces.

The fight to resist attacks on rights that have already been won, and to achieve advancements they don’t yet have, is ongoing in the region. It makes it all the more urgent to continue fighting for legal, safe, and free abortion access, accompanied by sexual education based on science that is free from conservative bias, provided in health centers and schools, and safe and secure access to general and emergency contraceptives for all people.

But in spite of this immediate and urgent struggle, it should be clear that the capitalist class in power shows that they don’t have the capacity to guarantee even minor issues for the working class—just as millions of people are unemployed or in danger of losing their jobs, lack access to dignified housing or a quality public education system, are not guaranteed access to quality public health, much less women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and the possibility of making decisions around pregnancy have not been guaranteed for the entire population nor will they be guaranteed under capitalism.

Even in countries where there are advances in rights such as abortion in the U.S., these advancements do not provide us with the minimum conditions to guarantee those rights, nor are they permanent; rather they depend on the governing sectors of the bourgeoisie and use the rights of women and other oppressed sectors to negotiate quotas of power and to impose their ideologies.

That is why the struggle for full sexual and reproductive rights is closely linked to the all-out fight against capitalism, which does not guarantee us a dignified life as the working-class, and exploits and oppresses us every day. That is why it is central that this fight for legal, safe, and free abortion not only concerns women, but it is urgent that the working class take up this cause as their own, with women at the forefront of the different processes, but accompanied in the streets by the entire working class and its methods of struggle.

This 28th of September, we continue building the fight for a socialist society, achieved through the revolutionary destruction of the capitalist state, constructing a workers’ government that eliminates the current system of exploitation as the only solid foundation to impose measures that eliminate oppression over women’s bodies and the achievement of real liberties for all human beings.

That is why in Central America we continue creating socialist and revolutionary parties, hand in hand with the International Worker’s League, which serves as a political tool to organize the working class and other oppressed sectors in the struggle for socialism.

Workers’ Party- Costa Rica

International Worker’s League

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