29 de Abril: Ojo–la ley no te protegerá
A couple of recent events have revealed the fragility of women’s right to choose in Latin America and in the United States, despite laws guaranteeing abortion access in those countries (or at least, under certain circumstances).
A few weeks ago, in a piece for Womanist Musings, I commented on the case of a nine-year-old-girl in Brazil who, after much difficulty, succeeded in securing a legal abortion when a rape left her pregnant with twins. In that case, the Brazilian Archbishop ex-communicated the entire medical team that performed the procedure, along with the girl’s mother. Now, RH Reality Check brings us the story of another young girl, raped and impregnated by her step-father in Quintana Roo, Mexico. According to the local reproductive rights group, GIRE (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), the pregnant girl and her mother “received biased information from authorities about their rights and access to abortion.”
As in Bolivia and in many other areas of Latin America, women in Mexico who become pregnant as a result of rape are legally permitted to have an abortion. However, in practice, the bureaucratic processes necessary to secure a legal abortion, as well as the tendency of anti-abortion authorities to pressure women against the procedure, make cases of legal abortion fairly rare. This is not, as many have pointed out, because rape is rare: Marcy Bloom, of GIRE, notes that in 2009 alone, 881 women in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo “became pregnant as a result of rape.”
After some deliberation, this young Mexican girl and her family have decided to continue the pregnancy and keep the child. Still, anti-choice activists in the country have used the case as an opportunity to attack pro-choice groups like GIRE, arguing that the organization attempted to pressure the girl to get an abortion. In fact, women who become pregnant as a result of rape in Mexico are much more likely to be pressured by anti-choice elements to give up their legal right to abortion (see the RH article for a number of examples).
In case you are tempted to believe that legal abortion is so difficult to secure in Latin America because of the restrictions surrounding the procedure, think again: this week, abortion access suffered a major blow in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, where Roe v. Wade ostensibly extended abortion rights to women over 30 years ago. Thanks to the Oklahoma Legislature, women seeking abortion in that state will now have to view ultrasound images and “listen to a detailed description of the fetus.” Like the 24-hour wait law and other obstacles to abortion access, the Oklahoma measures display the profoundly condescending notion that unless forced, women will not think deeply about their decisions to have an abortion. That, unless the state imposes its own definitions of “thoughtfulness” and “consideration” onto women’s abortion decisions, then women will approach these decisions with frivolity and disdain.
The photographs in today’s posting were provided by a guest photographer.
When women were granted the vote, we were supposedly recognized by the state as “adults” capable of making independent decisions and of running for office. Restrictions to abortion access, however, return women to the realm of childhood, where we are deemed wards of the state who cannot be trusted with decisions impacting our own bodies and reproductive lives. These three stories reveal a painful truth–that we cannot trust the law. Laws alone will not protect us. Access to legal abortion–and “permission” to act as capable adults–are still a long way off.