Archive for the reproductive rights Category

29 de Marzo: Es una buena idea

Posted in Bolivia, HIV/AIDS, Latin America, reproductive rights, sexuality, women on March 29, 2012 by eugeniadealtura

Compañer@s: This is a good idea.

Today, La Paz’s La Razón reported that, in a recent forum that brought together young people from over 50 different organizations around the country, Bolivia’s youth demanded that individuals under the age of 18 be allowed to access HIV tests without the permission of their parents–and that this testing be free of charge.  This is a good idea.  On the one hand, recent studies reveal that rates of HIV in Bolivia are increasing most rapidly among the under-18 population.  On the other hand, my own research in La Paz and El Alto indicates that few adolescents feel comfortable talking with their parents about their love lives–much less sex, condom use, or STIs.

The demands of Bolivia’s youth, which were articulated at a forum on sexual and reproductive rights organized by the European Union, in addition to other groups, will be presented for government review on April 3–although it is unclear in what form.  At the same time, a municipal law is currently being considered to introduce HIV testing to a greater number of local health care centers, as well as to promote educational campaigns about the disease.

Initiatives such as these are sumamente importante in a country such as Bolivia, where many women reach menarche, and even become pregnant, before they have even learned what a period is.  Social attitudes toward contraception, pregnancy, and courtship in the country are certainly changing, with an increasing proportion of parents speaking with their kids about sex.  However, sexual behaviors may be changing even more rapidly.  A number of medical doctors in Bolivia commented to me during interviews that, over the past 15 years, they have delivered a greater number of babies to adolescent women than ever before.  With kids having sex younger and younger–and yet, still not feeling comfortable speaking with their parents about these experiences–Bolivia’s youth should have the right to take care of themselves.  I sincerely hope that this & other laws allowing minors to access contraceptives and STI testing without parental approval–and to assume control of their sexual and reproductive lives–pass.  It’s the right thing to do.

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26 de Septiembre: El aborto en México

Posted in abortion, Mexico, reproductive rights with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

When the tide begins to turn for women in Latin America, the right wakes up.  An article in the New York Times this week reports on the growing list of abortion restrictions being passed in states in Mexico since the country’s capital legalized elective abortion some three years ago.

25 de Agosto: El aborto y la inmigración

Posted in abortion, blogging, immigration, reproductive rights with tags , , , , , on August 25, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

I would like to bring to my readers’ attention a few articles that have emerged in the last couple of weeks highlighting the particularly vulnerable situation of immigrant women seeking access to reproductive health care, especially abortion.  In light of recent debates in the U.S. on immigration reform, including the anti-immigration legislation passed in Arizona and other states, it seems particularly important to consider how these policies affect the reproductive rights of women immigrants.  In general, the forecast is not good–while ABC News notes that immigrant women are frequently  customers of “cheap, do-it-yourself abortion,” guest writer Marcy Bloom of the blog “Trust Women” points to the dual attacks of the right on immigration and reproductive rights.  I encourage you all to read these pieces, and join in on the debates.

15 de Agosto: Noticias

Posted in abortion, Argentina, birth control, Bolivia, Latin America, reproductive rights, women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, a variety of news bits on Bolivia and reproductive rights around the world.

First, a story of social and political conflict in Bolivia’s Potosí department, where for the past 18 days, strikers have blocked roads and led social protests in the area.  Protestors are attempting to hold the Evo Morales government responsible for a number of projects that, although promised some time ago, have scarcely advanced.  The projects include an the construction of an international airport in the city of Potosí, the establishment of a new cement factory in the region, and government preservation of the historic Cerro Rico–the mountain pictured below whose silver deposits essentially financed the Spanish conquest of Latin America over 500 years ago.

The Andean Information Network (AIN) interprets recent protests in Potosí as evidence that Evo Morales’ traditional bases of support are disappointed with the administration’s failure to keep its promises.  While the Morales government often describes protests as led by the right wing, the AIN notes that, “seventy-eight percent of Potosí voters chose Morales in the 2009 presidential elections, second only to voters in the La Paz department.”  La Paz’s paper La Razón reports today that a variety of officials of the Morales government have been in negotiations with the Potosí protestors, and that some progress has been made on at least one point of contention, the plan to construct an airport.  However, hunger strikes and street blockades have continued, since five other major grievances have not yet been addressed.  Meanwhile, in the city of Potosí, families have been subsisting largely on noodles and rice, since blockades have prevented meat from reaching local markets.

None of the coverage of the Potosí protests that I have encountered thus far has discussed women’s particular participation in the protests or how women and girls are being affected by the conflicts.  In similar mobilizations in Bolivia, however, women have taken an active role.

This photo of the Cerro Rico mountain and Potosí city courtesy of Gerd Breitenbach, a user of Wikimedia Commons.

As political conflict rages in Bolivia, Argentina received an embarrassingly poor report card last week on women’s reproductive and sexual rights.  Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a 52-page report chronicling, “the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape.”  Regular readers will remember that these are also common problems in Bolivia.  Their prevalence in Argentina, however, is even more appalling considering that this country’s socioeconomic indicators tower above those of Bolivia, even after the economic crisis of 2000-2001.

Similar to conditions in Bolivia, the report, entitled, “Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina,” notes the high prevalence of illegal abortion, high rates of maternal mortality due to abortion, and the failure of judges and doctors to authorize and perform those abortions that are legal (ie., in cases of rape). Access to contraceptives is also restricted due to a variety of issues, such as long waits at clinics, the (unauthorized) demand that a husband sign for a woman’s sterilization procedure, and financial costs.  These issues–and other, similar ones around the world–prompted one Guardian blogger to call for a UN agency specifically devoted to women. That’s an idea that’s easy to get behind.

The Human Rights Watch report on Argentina can be downloaded here.

The San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Finally, good news from the U.S.A.: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in that country approved a new pill to be used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse. The medication, called “Ella,” is considerably more effective than the morning-after pill that is currently on the market, Plan B.  While Ella will prevent pregnancy for up to 5 days following sex, Plan B is only effective for 3 days, and becomes less effective the later it is taken after the event.

This move by the FDA has been interpreted as “evidence of a shift in the influence of political ideology at the FDA,” since its approval moved more quickly than that of Plan B, and, as one activist mentioned, was “‘based on scientific evidence, not politics.'”  This does not mean that the battle has been won, however–anti-abortion activists have been quick to describe Ella as an abortifacent, and some are planning campaigns against the drug.  At the moment, women can obtain Ella with a prescription from their health care provider at any time, so they can keep a supply at home.  Go get yours today!

8 de Agosto: El aborto en las Filipinas

Posted in abortion, blogging, reproductive rights on August 8, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

A new report by the Center for Reproductive Rights entitled, “Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban,” chronicles the severe consequences to women of that country’s ban on abortion in all circumstances. Marcy Bloom, of Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE, has written an excellent article on the report here.

This photo of Palawan, in the Philippines, provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

20 de Junio: Algunos pequeños avances

Posted in abortion, Bolivia, reproductive rights with tags , , , , on June 20, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, I had the opportunity to speak to the public in Bolivia about unwanted pregnancy and abortion in La Paz and El Alto.  Although time does not permit me to present a full report here, I would like to share with my readership a few important points about these phenomena.  And to those that attended the talk, and to those who could not:  muchísimas gracias a todas las mujeres que abrieron sus corazones para hablar conmigo, y a todos los individuos e instituciones que me aportaron durante los últimos tiempos.  Su apoyo ha sido imprescindible.

– Of a fairly random sample of 55 Bolivian women, 26 (roughly 47%) reported having experienced at least one unwanted pregnancy in their lives.  Of these 26 women, 16 ended up having their children anyway, while 9 underwent illegal abortions.  Of the 16 women who ended up giving birth, several had attempted to abort through various means, including by throwing themselves down flights of stairs and beating themselves in the abdomen.

-Of the sample of 55 women, 12 in total had at least one abortion.  3 of these women were FORCED to abort–two by their partners, and one by her mother.

-Of these 55 women, 5 became pregnant at least one time due to RAPE.

-Of the 12 women who had abortions, only 2 were adolescents at the time of the procedure, and half of the women were married or partnered.  6 of the women continued to have children after their abortions–meaning that abortion is used not only to avoid unwanted pregnancy, but to space wanted pregnancies.

-The majority of women in this sample who had abortions earn less than $214 per month.

-Of four women who went to public hospitals for treatment following incomplete abortions that they admitted were provoked, one had hired a midwife to insert a sound into her cervix; one bought abortifacient herbs in the street, and two went to private (but poor quality) medical clinics near–ironically–the city’s public cemetery.

-Of 50 women who went to the Hospital de la Mujer, a large public hospital, with “miscarriages” during 1994, 50% reported that their miscarriages had been caused by “accidents” such as falls and lifting heavy items.  Most doctors assert that the majority of these accidents are intentional.

-Of a sample of some 25-30 individuals who by law are required to report cases of provoked abortion to authorities, around 70% fail to do so because they do not believe that women who seek abortions, nor the doctors who provide them, should be jailed. The other 30% either doesn’t know they are required to report these cases to the police, or they simply lack the time to do so.

-Of a sample of 113 individuals in total–representing a variety of social sectors, occupations, ages, ethnicities, and income levels–the majority report being against abortion.  At the same time, 95% of this group knows at least one woman who has gotten an abortion, and 100% knows exactly where to go to obtain one.  Several people characterize illegal provoked abortion in Bolivia as, “un secreto a voces,” or, an open secret.

-6 of 10 women in Bolivia will have at least one provoked abortion in her lifetime.  Most of these women will never tell anyone about their abortions.

22 de Enero: ‘Blog’ por el derecho a decidir

Posted in abortion, Bolivia, reproductive rights with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Today, as many of you may know, marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in that country back in 1973.  To mark this historic date, each year, the U.S. organization NARAL Pro-Choice America asks members of the international pro-choice blogging community to blog about a particular question regarding abortion rights.  This year, NARAL asks us to remember Dr. George R. Tiller, the Kansas abortion doctor who was shot and killed in the church he attended back in June 2009.  In life, Dr. Tiller frequently used to say, “Trust women.”  So, for this year’s “Blog for Choice” day, NARAL asks, “What does trust women mean to you?”

You can learn more about “Blog for Choice” day, and see a list of participating bloggers, here.

As a segue into my posting for Blog for Choice day, I’d like to tell a brief story about the (rather new) significance of el 22 de Enero in Bolivia.  Earlier this week, Bolivians learned that today would be a declared a national holiday—everyone would have the day off from work and school, and this new holiday would be observed during each coming year.  Bolivia’s current president—and first-ever indigenous president—Evo Morales, has designated January 22 as a day in recognition of his administration’s founding of a “plurinational state” in Bolivia.  Morales’ plurinational state is one that ostensibly recognizes, celebrates, and incorporates into leadership members of the at least 55% of the nation’s population that is of indigenous descent (mostly Aymara and Quechua, but other groups as well).

The significance of Evo Morales’ leadership in Bolivia for indigenous populations is far too complex to explore here (and several brilliant and thoughtful sources have already done so).  However, a different question has been troubling me, which is, what is the significance of Evo Morales’ leadership in Bolivia for women, including indigenous women?  Last night, over beer and French fries, I asked my Bolivian, Quechua-descendent, feminist activist, 50-ish woman friend just this question.  Her response was, roughly, “My frustration with Evo is that he elevates one woman to the senate [Ana María Campero], and then asserts that men and women are equal—which is another way of telling us to be quiet, to quit organizing.”

Anyone who heard my interview on Radio Deseo “Trajines” (see earlier posting) knows that I am deeply wary of so-called feminist organizations that view indigenous culture—and indigenous women—as obstacles to the realization of the (implicitly western) sexual and reproductive rights agenda, including the right to safe and legal abortion.  The objective of organizing for the sexual and reproductive rights of women should be to guarantee women of all cultures and ethnicities the ability to define and to exercise those rights as they wish—even when the outcome bears little resemblance to the western feminist line.  U.S. feminists will find these debates very familiar.  Throughout that country’s feminist movement, women of color have often had to struggle to be recognized as women, often creating separate movements that would cater more directly to their interests.  (See for example the influential book by bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, 1981.)  In Bolivia, as in the U.S., this theme is not a simple one, and I expect it will come up time and again in this blog.

And so, somewhat circuitously, we come to our theme: trust women.  What does it mean to me?

Trusting women means listening to and believing in the indigenous, mestiza, and European-descendent women in Bolivia who have shared with me their experiences with unwanted pregnancy and abortion, even when—perhaps especially when—these experiences fly in the face of my own assumptions and beliefs about pregnancy and abortion:

The woman who sought out two illegal abortions, but refuses to refer to those pregnancies as “unwanted.”

The woman whose abortion provider, after telling her he was the only one she could trust, raped her in a Santa Cruz hotel room.

The woman who now adores her four children, but insists that each of them were once “unwanted pregnancies.”

The woman whose family doctor understood her and took care of her, providing her with three abortions and delivering her three children.

The woman whose Catholic priest has failed to help her come to terms with her own abortion.

The woman who referred to her pregnancy as an “illness” that had been “cured” by an abortion.

The woman who explicitly asked me not to judge her before telling me about her own unplanned pregnancy—and now beautiful baby girl.

The woman who takes oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, but lets her husband believe that she simply cannot become pregnant.

The woman who swallowed an unknown mix of herbs to terminate a pregnancy that her partner would not accept, narrowly escaping death.

The woman who thanked me for asking her about her abortion—

And the other woman, who asked me not to ask her about hers.

Although sometimes it is difficult, because our cultures clash or because my beliefs do not exactly match theirs, Bolivian women have taught me to trust them.  To trust that they know and can best explain their own experiences, and that their beliefs about the meaning of “abortion,” “pregnancy,” and “wantedness”—although perhaps different from my own—are no less “correct,” or “true.”  So, today, alongside Dr. Tiller, I also want to thank the many Bolivian women who, through their openness, persistence, and insistence, have taught me what it really means to trust.