DRCLAS Panel Explores the Evolution of Abortion Policy in Modern Latin America | New


Experts discussed changing social, cultural and political norms on abortion access in Latin America during a virtual panel hosted Tuesday by Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

The panel – part of the Centre’s Fall 2021 Tuesday seminar series – included Camilla Reuterswärd, researcher at the University of Sussex, Cora Fernandez Anderson, professor at Mount Holyoke College, and Jocelyn Viterna, professor of sociology at Harvard, who spoke about access to abortion in Mexico, Argentina and El Salvador. , respectively.

In Mexico, each of the country’s 32 states has jurisdiction over its abortion policies. The variation within the country – attributable to partisan politics and the strength of religious institutions – “largely reflects” variations across Latin America, Reuterswärd explained.

“The intensity of electoral competition and the ideological positions of party rivals interact with the strength of the hierarchies of the Catholic Church in a given state to compel parties to pursue political reforms,” she said.

Despite a Mexican Supreme Court ruling last month that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional, problems with access to abortion in Mexico remain, including enforcement and retaliation, which has taken place in the United States. past, said Reuterswärd.

The decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City in 2007, for example, “ushered in a wave” of amendments to the right to life in other states, she said.

In Argentina, lawmakers passed a law in December 2020 legalizing abortion in the first 14 weeks of gestation. Fernandez Anderson hailed the country’s leading feminist activists as the “main force” behind the change.

“The activists really understood the party system and realized that they could take advantage of the fact that all parties were in fact divided on the issue of abortion,” she explained. “They started to build this multi-party coalition, which was certainly a lot more difficult, it took a lot longer.”

“The emergence of a strong social movement around abortion reform may have changed the negative perceptions associated with this practice,” added Fernandez Anderson.

In El Salvador, discussions about abortion did not begin until the 1990s, Viterna said. International influences – such as the politicization of abortion by Republicans in the United States – have brought anti-abortion language into the country, she explained.

In 1997, the country’s penal code banned abortion in all situations, and in 1999, a constitutional amendment defined life as beginning at conception.

With individual stories, Viterna demonstrated the tangible consequences of abortion bans. A pregnant woman who suffered abdominal pain and accidentally delivered her baby in a latrine was later charged with abortion – a charge that escalated into attempted aggravated homicide and led to her serving 12.5 years in prison, she said.

“The reality is that life begins at conception in El Salvador, and if life begins at conception, then it is really hard to tell the difference between abortion and murder, especially when abortion has no definition in law, ”Viterna said.

Following the presentations, Government Professor and Director of DRCLAS, Steven Levitsky, moderated a 30-minute question-and-answer session. Viterna noted the importance of social class in access to abortion as a caveat applicable in Mexico, Argentina and El Salvador.

Future seminars in the series at DRCLAS will focus on populism, technocracy and protest.


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