Monday, December 21, 2015

Abortions remain out of reach in most of Latin America (Dec. 21, 2015)

Abortion is a perennial flashpoint in Latin America (and almost everywhere else).

Amnesty International says that scores of women promoting access to safe abortions, sex education and contraception across the Americas have endured death threats, public harassment and physical attacks. 

Yet there's a seeming disconnect between the increasingly liberal LGBT laws and abortion which remains illegal in most of the region.

A piece in Americas Quarterly explores the issue, noting that same-sex marriage is already legal in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico; there are civil union laws just passed in Chile and Ecuador; and the Colombian Supreme Court just ruled that same-sex couples can adopt children. Yet  abortion remains illegal in most circumstances in most of Latin America (the exceptions are Cuba, Mexico City and Uruguay).

But despite the laws, abortion is remarkably common in much of the region, and access to a safe abortion is largely based on the ability to pay, writes Danielle Renwick. And that might be one reason the issue has failed to attract broader public and political support. "A major impediment to the extension of LGBT rights was the extent to which being in the closet was a comfortable position," according to Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College who studies LGBT rights in Latin America. Corrales says LGBT rights improved as more people became open about their sexual orientation, but "the abortion closet is more comfortable than the LGBT closet – you go and have your abortion in secret and nobody needs to know."

Some updates from around the region:

  • Earlier this month the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court reinstated a total ban on abortion, including cases in which a pregnant woman's life is at risk. "This decision takes women's and girls' human rights back to the 19th century," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. "Its impact will be catastrophic for women and girls in the Dominican Republic who will continue to be criminalized, stigmatized and forced to seek out unsafe abortions because they are denied access to safe and legal medical treatment."
  • The Guardian looks at what might be the worlds' most draconian anti-abortion law in El Salvador, where women who miscarry -- and are suspected of attempting an abortion -- can face murder charges with a 40-year prison sentence. If a woman encounters a severe health complication in her pregnancy that threatens her life, her doctors can’t legally terminate her pregnancy. She has no legal choice but to accept the deterioration of her health and her possible death. There are currently at least 15 women imprisoned in El Salvador for a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other obstetric emergency, according to Human Rights Watch. Of course, that doesn't mean abortions don't happen. Amnesty International said that almost 20,000 abortions between 2005 and 2008, and NGOs believe this is an underestimate. Hundreds of women are believed to die as a result of complications. Those who are caught are imprisoned. The health and legal risks of clandestine abortions are felt disproportionately by poor communities. 
  • In November, Peruvian legislators rejected a bill that would permit abortion in cases of rape, reports El Comercio.
  • Debate is raging in Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff's opposition is attempting to restrict access to abortion, specifically for rape victims, writes the Global Post earlier this month. The new legislation would erase a framework allowing rape victims access to abortions merely with their doctor’s consent. Instead, women would be required to report the rape to authorities and undergo tests by a forensic medical examiner. A piece in The Atlantic notes that about a fifth of of Brazilian women will have an abortion by age 40—either by paying exorbitant fees to secret clinics, ordering abortifacient pills, or traveling to Uruguay. The law's opponents say the measure would discourage rape reporting and traumatize survivors. A piece in PRI looks at the situation in the state of Rio, home to 16 million people, there is just one doctor in the public health system who performs legal abortions. (See Nov. 9th's post.)
News Briefs
  • The publication of final election results for Haiti's October polls resulted in violent protests and acts of vandalism in several cities, reports the Miami Herald. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) published the final results despite serious objections from the country's Senate, opposition leaders, human rights organizations, religious leaders and local election observers, many of whom allege that there was serious fraud in the process and are demanding an independent verification commission. (See Friday's and November 19th's post.) While the issue of the presidential race has received a lot of attention, there are serious allegations of bribery in the legislative race, which threaten to derail the installation of the country's 50th Legislature next month. Haiti has been without a functioning parliament for nearly a year after the terms of most senators expired last January.
  • Brazilian Finance Minister Joaquim Levy threw in the towel and resigned, after the country lost its investment grade credit rating last week (see Thursday's briefs) and the country's legislators approved a budget with lower surplus targets than those advocated by Levy (seeFriday's briefs). The move could benefit President Dilma Rousseff in her battle to stay in power amidst impeachment proceedings and legislative bickering, however. Levy's austerity measures have been criticized by Rousseff's leftist base and have been poorly received in Congress this year, notes the New York Times. The Senate leader of the PMDB party -- an ally of Rousseff's coalition, though it is also behind the impeachment attempt -- told Reuters that his party's senators favor the president finishing her term, if she backs growth-oriented economic policies. The PMDB has rejected what it called fiscal austerity for the sake of austerity and advocated liberalizing labor laws and reforming of the pension system instead. Rousseff named leftist economist and close aid Nelson Barbosa to replace him on Friday, reportsReuters. Barbosa, currently the planning minister, has been one of the strongest opponents of Levy's aggressive austerity drive. Markets reacted poorly to rumors on Friday that Levy would be leaving, and also to Supreme Court rulings that could favor Rousseff's fight against impeachment, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • On Friday a Minas Gerais judge froze the assets of mining giants BHP and Vale, after determining their joint venture Samarco was unable to pay for widespread damage caused by the bursting of a dam at its mine last month, reports Reuters. The accident is being characterized as the country's worst environmental disaster: it killed 16 people, destroyed the homes of hundreds more and polluted an 800 km river that flows across two states. (See Nov. 30th's briefs.) The Los Angeles Times has a piece on the catastrophic extent of the damage, which has turned a long stretch of the River Doce bright orange, affected riverside communities with diarrea and vomiting and will likely destroy entire ecosystems. 
  • The wide-ranging corruption scandal at Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras constantly grabs headlines as politicians and businessmen are caught in what seems to be an ever-widening net. The Wall Street Journal has a helpful piece reviewing the case, specifically as it relates to the business community. Prosecutors allege that for at least a decade, beginning around 2003, some of Brazil's largest construction firms formed a cartel to divvy up work and inflate the price of Petrobras contracts, explains the piece.
  • A 2006 U.S. immigration policy provides an escape route for Cuban medical workers posted overseas. The residency program has allowed thousands of healthcare workers to emigrate to the U.S., and Cuban President Raúl Castro is determined to stanch the flow, reports the New York Times
  • Castro said he's interested in deepening the diplomatic rapprochement with the U.S., but urged the American government to stop the transmission of radio and television broadcasts aimed at the island, reports the Associated Press. "The United States maintains programs that are harmful to Cuban sovereignty, such as projects to promote changes in our political, economic and social order," he said. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • A group of 10 Cuban-American businesspeople published a full page advertisement in theMiami Herald this Sunday, urging support of the thaw between the two countries, convinced that warmer ties between the two will help Cubans.
  • Venezuelan magnate Roberto Rincón was arrested in Houston on charges involving money laundering, reports El Nuevo Herald. The businessman is linked to state-owned Petroleum of Venezuela and the former Venezuelan Military Intelligence Director Hugo Carvajal. 
  • The Huffington Post has an interview with WOLA Venezuela expert David Smilde, where he discusses the significance of the recent National Assembly elections and the Chávez legacy. After the opposition landslide win earlier this month, "Chavismo is going to have to learn how to deal with an opposition and learn to be more democratic, learn how to recognize pluralism, or it's going to become a much more authoritarian government," he says. "The opposition won these elections in a system that was created by Chavismo. If Chavismo does not recognize these elections, that would be a new level of authoritarianism. Chavismo is quite exceptional, historically, in the sense that it's the one revolution that has led to socialism -- or an attempt at socialism -- through democratic means."
  • A Colombia nears a peace deal with the FARC guerrilla group, the issue of how to deal with drug production and trafficking, which have long enabled the country’s violent conflict, becomes crucial argue Vanda Felbab-Brown and Anna Newby on the Brookings' Order from Chaos blog. "Production won't disappear from the country any time soon, but sustained efforts to improve rural livelihoods can pull Colombians away from coca production in the long run, while well-designed interdiction can reduce some of the harms, including violence, associated with drug trafficking."
  • Mexican Roman Catholic Cardinal Norberto Rivera says that the church is fine with medicinal marijuana reports the Associated Press. The country is debating what the marijuana legislation should be after a Supreme Court decision last month potentially paved the way for decriminalization. (See Nov. 5th's and Nov. 30th's posts.)
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron told Falkland Islanders that he hopes to develop a "more mature relationship" with Argentina's newly elected government. In his annual Christmas message to the territory he ratified the UK's commitment to maintaining the status of the island, reports The Guardian. New President Mauricio Macri promised to develop friendlier relations, though he is not expected to drop his country's claim of sovereignty over what it calls Las Malvinas.
  • The U.S., with the support of Western European warships, has been stepping up an offensive against Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean drug transportation routes used by Mexican and Colombian cartels, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Chilean authorities and civil aviation workers reached an agreement yesterday that ended a four day strike that canceled hundreds of flights and stranded thousands of passengers ahead of the holidays, reports Reuters.
  • In security obsessed Latin America, Uber and other ride-sharing apps have become an instant hit, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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