What American Abortion Activists Can Learn From Their Latin America Sisters

As she spoke into the microphone, alternating between tears of sadness and shouts of rage, Araceli Herrera recalled the brutal gang rape she experienced as a teenager in Mexico City.

Now in her 70s, it was only the second time she spoke about it publicly, summoning up the courage to use her experience to ensure others know what can happen when abortion is illegal.

“I gave birth in a hospital for poor people, and my son and I had to live on the streets where I had to beg for food. I carried him around in a shoebox, and people called him the ‘son of many dicks’,” Araceli recalled, still angry over the way she was treated as an innocent victim of that brutal attack. “I was a child. I was in college. I had dreams. I wanted to be a biologist, but they destroyed my life,” 

In was on Sunday, February 27th, when she flew from San Antonio, Texas, where she now resides, to New York City to speak at a pro-abortion rights rally held in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. 

Unfortunately, her story is not an isolated one. It is becoming increasingly common in the US as well, as conservative-leaning states are chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. In fact, 2021 was the worst year for abortion rights in almost half a century. There were 108 abortion restrictions enacted last year, far surpassing the previous post-Roe record of 89 set in 2011. One of the most damaging abortion restrictions to go into effect was Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which drastically reduced access to care beginning September 1, 2021. And just last week, Florida legislators followed suit by voting to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy,  providing no exceptions for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking. This will all build to a crescendo this spring when a ruling in the Supreme Court case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health could gut abortion rights nationally.

Yet it has been shown that abortion restrictions won’t actually reduce the number of abortions that take place. According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is legal are similar to those in countries where it’s illegal. But where it is illegal, botched abortions cause about 8 – 11 percent of all maternal deaths (approximately 30,000 each year.) 

So if making abortion illegal doesn’t actually reduce the number of abortions, what do anti-abortion activists really hope to accomplish?  The answers to this are chilling, and affect every American, regardless of sex, age, religion, race or sexual orientation.

Roe v. Wade did far more than establish the right to abortion; it solidified and expanded the constitutional “right to privacy,” which has also been described as the right to autonomy. contraception and procreation, marriage, family relations, child rearing, and intimacy.

As a result, the following fundamental rights will be jeopardized if Roe v. Wade is overturned:

*The Right to Contraception and the Right to ProcreateRoe v. Wade reaffirmed prior decisions protecting individuals’ rights to contraception and to decide whether to bear a child. Contraceptives and even some fertility treatments would be in jeopardy because they are rooted in the right to privacy.

*The Right to Make Decisions About How to Rear One’s Children: Roe v. Wade strengthened the underlying principle that parenting should remain free from unwarranted government intrusion.

*The Right to Maintain Family Relationships: The Supreme Court relied on Roe v. Wade to ensure that states cannot interfere in the realm of family life by preventing close relatives from living together.

*The Right to Intimacy: The right to form intimate relationships and the related right for adults to engage in consensual sexual relations in private was profoundly influenced by Roe v. Wade. If this fundamental right were to be overturned, this fundamental right could end, as well as jeopardize both gay and interracial marriage.

*The Right to Personal Control of Medical Treatment:
In 1990. the Supreme Court was influenced by Roe v. Wade to extend one’s privacy right to include the ability to appoint a healthcare proxy and refuse unwanted medical treatment.

Increasing challenges to Roe v. Wade not only have the potential to threaten the protections of these basic fundamental rights, but it’s already starting to occur. In Florida, for example, other legislation on the verge of passage includes banning instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in some elementary school grades (nicknamed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill), and allowing parents to sue public school districts if students believe they were made to feel uncomfortable about a historical event because of their race, sex or national origin (nicknamed the ‘Stop Woke Act.’). Both are expected to pass before the final day of the legislative session on March 11.

Further, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has already said that he is skeptical there is a right to privacy and has been swayed by the lack of an explicit reference to this right in the Constitution, a concept known as “textualism”.

What Can We Do?

As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Recent evidence of this occurred in Colombia, just last week, as it became the latest Latin American country to partially decriminalize abortion after supporters campaigned for two decades to remove abortion from the country’s criminal code through grass roots organizing, and demonstrating in the streets. In Argentina, women were also able to push legislation to legalize abortion by getting hundreds of thousands of women marching in the streets, unified by the easily detected symbol of a green handkerchief. It worked. Abortion was legalized in Argentina in 2019.

Tomorrow, on International Women’s Day (March 8th), the symbolic green handkerchief will be worn on streets of America to push back against the increasing attacks on women’s legal right to abortion. RiseUp4AbortionRights, a grass roots organization that supports women’s right to reproductive choice, as well as the fundamental right to privacy for all Americans, is calling on all of us to rally with them at major cities across the country.

As a co-initiator of this movement, I hope you’ll join us. It may be our very last chance. You can register here.

In solidarity,

Lori Sokol, PhD, Executive Director & Editor-in-Chief

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