Latin American Women Make Monumental Gains in Reproductive Rights

Rocio Lopez

Advances in Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico show lessons for the world, including the U.S. — Editors

Women in Latin America have made monumental gains in bodily autonomy and reproductive rights in the last few years. After years of mass protests in Latin America, Argentina legalized abortion at the end of 2020. 1 million women (& others) took to the streets to demand abortion rights at the end of 2018 and led to the legalization of abortion in one of Latin America’s most populated countries. Uruguay legalized abortion in 2012, which inspired the movement in its next-door neighbor Argentina. Movement victories build on one another and it was clear that Argentinian feminists’ victory would lead to victories elsewhere. Another victory quickly followed when Colombia decriminalized abortion in Feb 2022 after its highest court struck down the criminal penalties on abortion. Abortion is now legal until 24 weeks of pregnancy in Latin America’s 3rd most populated country.

Mexico’s supreme court also struck down laws banning abortion as unconstitutional in the fall of 2021 but with a more limited impact affecting only one state immediately. It followed the Mexican state of Oaxaca’s legislature legalizing abortion in 2019. The trend of increasing reproductive rights in Latin America is clear: 3 out of 4 of Latin America’s most populous countries have made significant strides in decriminalizing abortion in the last 1.5 years. The week before the victory in Colombia made world news, Ecuador legalized abortion in cases of rape despite having a socially conservative president!

As abortion rights are quickly being rolled back in the U.S., and Texan women currently have no access to abortion in their state, it will be crucial that U.S. American women pay attention to Feminist movements in Latin America to see how to fight against powerful anti-abortion foes. The next domino likely to fall in Latin America is in Chile where over 350,000 women protested in favor of abortion rights on International Women’s Day in 2019 and where a new more democratic constitution is being written whose current draft would guarantee reproductive rights in the constitution. In contrast to previous pink tide presidents, Chile’s new president supports legal and free (no cost) abortion and ran on an explicitly Feminist platform!

The leftward move in Chile is a very promising development. Gabriel Boric, a 36-year-old Leftist and former protest leader, was sworn in as president in Chile in March. Mass protests of hundreds of thousands in 2019 began against economic inequality but grew to demand Chile write a new constitution. A new constitution will be written to replace the constitution that was imposed on Chile by the Pinochet dictatorship. In his inspirational and highly charismatic inauguration speech Chile’s new president specifically mentioned indebted students, LGBT people, trans people, and the indigenous. He also gave a shout out to those struggling against oppression, those defending human rights, and to the Feminist movement.

During his campaign Boric said, “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave.” Let us hope Boric’s prediction comes to pass! If Chile, which has some of the weakest social safety nets in Latin America and whose last president was a billionaire, can make such Leftward progress, it will inspire Left movements all around Latin America. Boric chose a majority women cabinet and importantly put women in charge of key ministries. The new minister of defense in Chile is Salvador Allende’s granddaughter, which is an unfathomable turn of fate given that her socialist grandfather was overthrown by a military coup! It also includes Camila Vallejo, a prominent Communist Party politician who came to fame during Chile’s mass student protests in 2011.

Latin America faces many challenges but the victories of social movements there should give Leftists around the world hope. As the Latin American revolutionary saying goes, “¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”

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