Latin America's Abortion Battles: Advocates for Women's Rights Sense Progress in the Ongoing Battle for Better Reproductive Health Care Services

By Mariner, Joanne | Conscience, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Latin America's Abortion Battles: Advocates for Women's Rights Sense Progress in the Ongoing Battle for Better Reproductive Health Care Services


Mariner, Joanne, Conscience


IT WAS ONE OF THE UGLIER MOMENTS IN LATIN America's increasingly heated debate over reproductive rights and abortion. Argentina's minister of health, Gines Gonzalez Garcia, went on record in February to state a few compelling facts and hazard some conclusions. Estimating that there were half a million abortions annually in Argentina, Gonzalez suggested that decriminalizing the procedure could reduce the level of maternal mortality. Because abortion in Argentina is illegal in almost all circumstances, it is generally unsafe. Gonzalez also affirmed that condom distribution to the young was an effective means of preventing HW/AIDS.

From a health perspective, his comments were innocuous. But as a political matter, they were anything but. The societal debate over abortion and, more broadly, sexuality and reproductive freedom, has long been simmering in Argentina. Last year, when the government named a woman justice to the Supreme Court who publicly supported decriminalizing abortion, religious and antichoice groups were enraged. To appoint to the court an "abortionist," as they called her, was a worrying signal, one hinting at possible policy changes to come.

And so the backlash against Gonzalez's statements was immediate. Within days, Bishop Antonio Baseotto, a hard-line army prelate, had sent Gonzalez a letter that accused him of justifying murder by encouraging abortion. Quoting a passage from the bible, the letter suggested that Gonzalez should have a millstone tied to his neck and "be cast into the sea."

The Baseotto letter would have been threatening and offensive in any context, but Argentina's tragic history made it worse. During the country's 1976-83 military dictatorship, some 1,500 to 2,000 perceived subversives were killed by being thrown from airplanes into the Atlantic. A navy officer responsible for some of the murders later said that a Catholic chaplain had assured him, after hearing his confession, that it was "a Christian form of death." And in Argentina, unlike in several other Latin American countries, the church hierarchy was largely silent in the face of military abuses.

Baseotto's letter and the public outcry that followed threatened to over-shadow the question that sparked it: the possibility of decriminalizing abortion. But the emotion that the controversy generated was not unprecedented. Clashes over reproductive rights have been frequent, in Argentina and other countries in the region, and arguably more acrimonious than ever before. They typically pit hard-line religious leaders and militant antichoice groups against public health authorities, feminist activists and progressive legislators. And all over Latin America, the public is following these debates closely.

Bishop Baseotto's reaction was, admittedly, more exaggerated than the norm. But the church hierarchy, bitterly opposed to possible changes in the region's restrictive abortion laws, has been quick to pull out its biggest guns whenever the subject of abortion comes up for debate. From Argentina to Colombia, Bolivia to Nicaragua, health officials, judges, legislators and others responsible for abortion and contraception policies have risked expulsion from the church. The pressures have not been subtle. "While we were debating the law [on reproductive health]," said Alicia Tare, a lawmaker from Argentina's Santa Fe province, "all the representatives received a letter from the archbishop threatening us with excommunication."

Church authorities deem abortion, contraception and other sex- and reproduction-related matters to be religious issues meriting a doctrinal response. Their approach has faced increasing resistance, however, by feminists and others who recognize that control over maternity, sexuality and reproduction is crucial to women's autonomy. And these groups know that barriers to legal abortion, in particular, take a devastating toll on women's health and lives.

As it is now being fought, much of the battle is over conceptual understandings.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Latin America's Abortion Battles: Advocates for Women's Rights Sense Progress in the Ongoing Battle for Better Reproductive Health Care Services
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?