Across the world, there is an upsurge of women against inequality and male chauvinism in defense of legal abortion. In May, Irish women achieved the right to abortion through a plebiscite. Argentina also became a stage of struggle for legal abortion in the past few months. On August 8, over 1 million people participated in a demonstration in favor of legalization. Despite the parliament turned its back on the demands in the streets, the struggle continues with strength. Next September 28, on the International Day of Struggle for Abortion, women will go to the streets in different countries to demand once again the decriminalization and legalization of abortion and to say, no imprisonment, no deaths. For the life of working women. Legal abortion, now!
September 28 is the Latin American and Caribbean Day of Struggle for the Decriminalization and Legalization of Abortion. The date was chosen to discuss the subject in the region that has the greatest proportion of illegal abortions. It also works to remember the tragedy generated for thousands of working-class women around the world, specially black and poor women by restrictive legislation that criminalizes the practice. Therefore, it became an international framework for the struggle for the legalization of abortion.
Currently, 60% of the world population lives in countries where the legislation foresees abortion in one or all situations. This percentage, nonetheless, hides the fact that 45% of the proceedings took place in bad conditions out of the 56 million abortions registered in the world between 2010 and 2017. Out of these, 97% took place in countries in development of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Just in Latin America and the Caribbean, there were 6.5 million abortions every year (Brazil representing around 1 million of them). This is the highest rate in the world. There is an even higher rate of unsafe abortions in the region, 76% of the total. Not by chance, complications due to illegal abortions are one of the main causes of maternal mortality here.
One must remember that in Latin America and the Caribbean, only three countries allow interrupting pregnancy independent of the reason: Guyana, Uruguay and Cuba. Abortion is also legal without restrains until the 12th week of pregnancy in Puerto Rico (US territory in the Caribbean) and the City of Mexico. In six countries (El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Suriname), abortion is not allowed in any circumstance. In the rest, it is criminalized, but it has exceptions like risk for the mother’s life, rape and fetal abnormality. Paraguay, Venezuela, Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala and Dominican Republic only allow the proceeding if there is a life or death risk for the mother.
Therefore, 90% of women in reproductive ages in Latin America and the Caribbean live with restrictive laws on abortion. These restrictions do not reduce abortion rates they only push unsafe practices. In this scenario, it is not surprising that out of 100,000 born alive, there are 67 maternal deaths. Neither is it the fact that 760 thousand women receive treatment for complications like hemorrhage or infections, due to abortion mal practice per year. All this without taking into account that a considerable number of women with complications does not receive the due treatment due to stigma, fear or lack of access to services and adequately equipped health institutions.
Criminalization of abortion also destroys the life and health of women in other ways. El Salvador possesses one of the most draconian laws in the world regarding this subject. Here, abortion policy is an actual “witch hunt” against poor women. Some are denounced and imprisoned, even due to spontaneous abortions. There are cases in the country of women who were condemned up to 40 years of prison due to practicing abortion.
The situation of the countries where abortion is legal only in specific circumstances is similar. The difficulty to carry out the procedure is enormous. In Paraguay, abortion is only legal when it means to save the life of a woman. The case of the “Mainumby” girl, a 10 year old, is a clear example of what we are saying. Women or girls who get pregnant due to rape end up ignored. Alternatively, victims are forced to continue pregnancy until term, despite opposite recommendations by doctors and international human rights organizations. In Brazil in 2017, there were 1,636 legal abortions, in other words, around 0.5% of the estimated number of abortions in the country.
Criminalizing does not reduce Abortions
As one may see, criminalization does not reduce the number of abortions. It only divides women between those who can and those who cannot pay for the proceeding. Bourgeois women, on one hand, have their health and lives ensured since they can pay for high standard clinics and qualified professionals to carry out the proceeding. Despite they do suffer constraint due to carrying out illegal abortions; they are able to do so safely, out of the police’s watch. On the other hand, working-class and poor women when faced with an unwanted pregnancy are forced to resort to illegal clinics or abortion medicines and other practices that often end tragically since they have no economic conditions to carry out the proceeding safely. Brazil, for example, has an average of four deaths per day of women seeking help in hospitals due to complications in abortion. A perfectly avoidable tragedy because when pregnancy is interrupted with adequate assistance it rarely leads to death. According to specialists, the death rates when abortion is carried out safely are lower than in regular labor. Therefore, this is an issue of public health!
Most women who resort to illegal abortion due so out of need. They are not criminals, they are victims of the system. Before an unwanted and unexpected pregnancy they have no choice but to risk their health and lives in the hands of people profiting from their suffering, following capitalist logic. The state does not allow women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but it also does not guarantee the necessary conditions for working class women to decently exert their maternity. For example, it does not guarantee jobs and dignified wages for working class women. It does not provide full-time childcare and schools so that their children may be safe while they work. It does not offer conditions so that women in situations of domestic violence may break with an abusive relationship and feed their children without depending economically on their aggressor husband or partner. Finally, it does not even free pregnant women and their babies from the consequences of a Zika virus infection.
For Women’s Lives
To decriminalize and legalize abortion is to guarantee the right of working class women to life. The entire working class must vindicate this right. We cannot accept one more death because conservative and reactionary sectors in office refuse this right to women. Even less for the Church and religions to continue determining the laws of the State. However, just the guarantee of legal abortion does not solve the problem if conditions are not granted for women to access it through the public health network. Since 56% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are unwanted, it must be accompanied by measures to avoid unwanted pregnancies. For example, sexual education in schools and health units, free birth control, family planning, etc.
As long as women do not have the right to a dignified motherhood, they will continue to resort to abortion. Even if this goes against their ideological and religious believes. They will continue to be condemned to death because the capitalist bourgeois State will continue to be incapable of guaranteeing public, free and quality health for all the population. Including working-class women who would like to have safe abortions. Governments, in service of the bourgeoisie, have cut services like public health as part of the adjustments and attacks they push against social rights.
The fight for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion is a task for all workers, men and women. It must be part of the general struggle of the class against governments and their reforms. On this September 28, we will remember the mutilations and deaths of women that take place every year due to illegal abortions. We will fight for the right of abortion to be guaranteed by law, so that not even one more woman is punished for having an abortion. We will also fight to show the hypocrisy of the bourgeois capitalist state. While it denies women the right to abortion, it is incapable of granting working class women a dignified motherhood.
To struggle to achieve Legal Abortion
We must follow the example of the Irish, the Argentinian and all the countries where abortion was achieved through organization and mobilization of women with the support of the working class. In several countries, like Brazil and Guatemala, the Church and the more conservative sectors have being doing systematic lobby to restrain further the abortion legislation. Thanks to the struggle of the women’s movement, they do not manage to advance in their agenda, but it is necessary to intensify the struggle. It is necessary to implement a broad campaign in defense of the legalization of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean, and everywhere that abortion has not yet been legalized. The working-class must be at its center, and it must be conscious on the cruelty of the legislations that contribute with the death of women, mainly poor women.
Finally, we must hold no trust on the good will of the parliament, the governments and bourgeois justice to grant us this right. As all demands of the class, it may only be obtained in struggle. On the 28, let us all go to the streets and say: sexual education and birth control to decide, legal and safe abortion not to die!