Debora Diniz is widely known in her homeland of Brazil as an activist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, law professor, and a co-founder of ANIS: Institute of Bioethics, an organization dedicated to bioethics and human rights in Latin America. In addition to her impressive career as a professor and lawyer, Diniz has worked on Brazilian Supreme Court cases involving abortion, marriage equality, the secular state, and stem cell research.
Argentina has drawn widespread attention in the past couple of weeks as the Argentinian Congress took it’s first step towards legalizing abortion for women up to 14 weeks. On June 14th, the bill officially passed the House by 129 to 125 votes after a 23-hour strenuous debate (Politi and Ellis). If the Senate approves the abortion bill in the next hurdle for women’s rights, then President Macri has agreed to sign the law into effect.
In 1997, El Salvador’s Congress made a motion to criminalise abortion, with legislators finalizing their decision without opening the case for public debate or consulting any medical professionals. The campaign was headed by a number of anti-choice groups backed by the Catholic church, and the opposition, which took the form of a few women’s rights activists, was literally silenced when their microphones were disconnected during the trial (Lakhani 2017).
As a majority Catholic country, abortion in Argentina has always been a sensitive topic. Illegal except for in a few cases, the Human Rights Watch estimates that nearly 500,000 abortions occur in Argentina annually, constituting about 40 percent of all pregnancies. It is also the leading cause of maternal mortality in the country (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
Six countries in the world have bans on abortion under all circumstances, four of those are in Latin America. Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic have the strictest abortion laws in the world even prohibiting abortion to save a woman’s life. El Salvador has prosecuted 150 women for abortion with 49 women being convicted and 26 charged with homicide. Legally, doctors must report any woman that they suspect has had an abortion and women could face anywhere from two to eight years in prison.
Hundreds of women sit behind bars in El Salvador punished for defying the ban on abortion. Many, such as María Teresa Rivera are pleading they are wrongly jailed for having suffered miscarriages or stillbirths. Three years ago Rivera miscarried and awoke handcuffed to her hospital bed surrounded by seven policemen who proceeded to charge her with murder.1 After an eight-month trial, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder.
Brazil has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. So, it comes as no surprise that even in the context of pregnancies affected by the Zika virus, Brazil is faced with theological and political challenges.
In most countries labeled as “developing country,” it is typical for birthrates to be extremely high, while health and education levels are low. But Cuba is an exception to the developing country rule: ever since the Castro Revolution in 1959, even with the label of “developing country,” Cuba has had extremely high levels of education and a world renowned health care system. Another aspect in which Cuba remains an outlier is their birthrate.
The government of El Salvador has released a suggestion for women to delay becoming pregnant until 2018 due to the outbreak of the Zika virus. El Salvador is one of several countries (including Jamaica, Colombia, and Ecuador) to make such a suggestion but theirs is the most contradictory of them all considering their extremely strict anti-abortion laws and hard-to-access forms of contraception.