Perceptions of solidly conservative Texas shifted dramatically in late 2012, when President Barack Obama won a landslide re-election largely thanks to the 71 percent of Latino voters who supported him. Democrats immediately seized on the opportunity, making comprehensive immigration reform a pillar of the president’s second-term policy agenda and launching an aggressive campaign to solidify Latino voter support across the country.
But in Texas, Democrats saw an even greater draw. For the first time in decades they saw an opportunity to secure the state’s 38 Electoral College votes. The Obama campaign’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird founded a grassroots organization called Battleground Texas and quickly set out a plan to turn the state blue.
Despite the group’s efforts, Texas political analysts have been quick to note that Battleground Texas is unlikely to have any major impact within the foreseeable future. The Texas Republican party has already responded by opening five field offices and hiring two dozen campaigners, and the state’s Latino voters are far less left-leaning than their counterparts across the United States.
In a more controversial appeal to Latino voters, and perhaps a broader gesture to the state’s conservative voters, Texas Governor Rick Perry spent recent months galvanizing support and ensuring the passage of a deeply unpopular anti-abortion bill. Experts have described it as one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion legislation among a series of state legislative and legal battles over reproductive rights across the United States.
The law bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and sets prohibitive costs and operating standards for women’s health clinics. Reproductive health providers in Texas’ poorer southern region—including only two clinics that currently offer abortions—have already said that they will have to close due to inflated operating costs imposed by the new law.
While polls suggest the bill will garner strong support from Latino voters—studies show that as many as 62 percent of Texas Hispanics identify as “pro-life”—it will undoubtedly carry devastating consequences for Latina women and their families.
Experts believe that the law will leave women in southern Texas with two precarious options: to travel four hours to the nearest abortion clinics in San Antonio, or in most cases, to cross the nearby U.S.-Mexico border to illegally obtain misoprostol, a steroid used in early term medical abortions to deteriorate the uterine lining. Without proper medical supervision, the medication can result in internal bleeding and partial abortions, with life-threatening consequences for those who take it.
Often lacking health insurance or documented immigration status, low-income and immigrant women are likely to be most severely affected by the new restrictions. According to a report by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Latina women “suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy, and poverty,” and “face systemic barriers in accessing the health care they need, including reproductive health care like contraception and abortion.”
Texas’ new law will only serve to deepen disparities for the state’s Latina women. Rather than improve public health, it places an unfair burden on those who already face extensive discrimination and inadequate access to care.
Furthermore, it strengthens perceptions among the country’s quickly growing Latino electorate that politicians believe they can win their support through single-issue campaigns. Rather than look to controversial wedge issues and swing state elections, leaders from both parties should seek to engage in a more dynamic and sustained conversation with Latino voters on the issues that matter to them most.
Former President Michelle Bachelet, the Nueva Mayoría pact’s candidate for Chile’s November presidential election, expressed her support on Monday for legalizing abortion in cases of medical emergency and rape. Her opponent, former Economy Minister Pablo Longueira and candidate for the incumbent Alianza por Chile coalition, has vowed to maintain the current policy of prohibition.
Reproductive rights has risen to national attention in the midst of outrage following news last week that a pregnant 11-year old Chilean girl—raped by her mother’s partner in the southern city of Puerto Montt—faces life-threatening complications from her pregnancy. The girl, identified only as Belén, has few legal options since abortion is banned in Chile under all circumstances.
Chile is one of the most socially-conservative countries in Latin America and has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the world. Abortions for medical reasons were allowed until 1973, but then outlawed under Augusto Pinochet’s military rule. Despite the restriction, reports from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 150,000 abortions take place in Chile each year. However, President Sebastián Piñera has opposed loosening the prohibition. In 2012, the Senate rejected three bills that would have ended the absolute ban.
Top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responds to national protests; The U.S. Senate will vote on immigration reform; Coca farmers clash with police in Colombia; Uruguayan voters uphold abortion law; Judicial leaders meet in Bolivia; Ecuador considers asylum request.
Protests Expand Across Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in cities across the country on Saturday and Sunday, in a third week of protests against corruption and public spending related to the country's upcoming mega sporting events. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called on protesters to refrain from violence after demonstrators threatened to disrupt the Confederations Cup soccer tournament on Saturday. More than 1 million Brazilians protested last week, and there are no signs that the demonstrations will end any time soon: a major protest is scheduled for next Sunday’s Confederation Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Immigration Reform Up For Senate Vote: U.S. President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to pass immigration reform as the U.S. Senate approaches a key vote on Monday. The Senate will consider an amendment containing enhanced border security provisions that was filed on Friday, doubling the number of border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to garner the bipartisan support necessary to pass the bill. Senators will decide on Monday evening whether to proceed to debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he hopes that the final vote will take place at the end of the week, and Republican Senator Mike Lee said he believed the bill is “likely to pass” with up to 70 votes. Opponents of the bill predict that it will die in the more-conservative House of Representatives.
Protests Turn Deadly in Colombia; President Santos Asks FARC to "Play Clean": At least two protesters in Norte de Santander were killed on Friday in clashes between thousands of protesting coca farmers and Colombian police. Police involved in the conflict claim that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) have infiltrated the protests, which involved at least 10,000 farmers. Meanwhile, at a march on Sunday in Carmen de Bolívar for victims of Colombia's armed conflict, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged the FARC to "play clean" and respect the agenda for peace currently being negotiated in Havana between the guerrillas and the Colombian government. However, experts believe that land disputes and drug-related violence will continue in Colombia's southern and border zones, regardless of any peace deal.
Uruguayan Voters Uphold Abortion Law: Uruguayan voters elected to uphold South America’s most liberal abortion law by refusing to go to the polls in a consultation ballot on Sunday. If one-quarter of Uruguay’s voting population had participated in Sunday’s vote, they could have paved the way for a popular referendum on the law, which was passed last October and permits abortions in the first three months of pregnancy. However, only 226,653 of the necessary 655,000 voters participated in the election. Uruguayan President José Mujica defended the abortion law, saying it would save many women’s lives, and supporters of women’s reproductive rights celebrated across the country. However, the law’s political opponents vowed to remain active, and a number of doctors in Uruguay have refused to perform abortions.
Judicial Leaders from Six Countries to Meet in Bolivia: Lawyers from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain and Italy will meet in La Paz on Monday for a three-day forum on judicial independence organized by the European Union and the UN. The forum coincides with an effort by the Bolivian government to strengthen its judicial institutions in accordance with the country's new constitution.
Ecuador Considers Granting Asylum to Snowden: Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed on Twitter this weekend that former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador after fleeing Hong Kong to avoid arrest for leaking classified documents about U.S. Internet and phone surveillance. Snowden is currently in Moscow, but this morning he reportedly did not board a flight he was expected to take to Cuba and his exact whereabouts remain unknown. Patiño said on Monday that Snowden's request for asylum in Ecuador is being analyzed. The U.S. government has revoked Snowden’s passport and has asked foreign countries not to grant him passage.
Doctors in Brazil sparked debate yesterday when the Conselho Federal de Medicina (Federal Council of Medicine) published a petition endorsing the legalization of first-trimester abortions.
The council, which represents approximately 400,000 doctors throughout the country, will submit the petition to a Senate commission that is reviewing several amendments to the country’s penal code. The document was met with overwhelming approval from the council’s 27 member organizations, 80 percent of which supported it.
Abortion is currently illegal in Brazil, except in limited cases: when the pregnancy risks the mother’s life, if the fetus presents signs of severe mental disability or in cases of rape. Nevertheless, Brazilian newspaper Folho de Sao Paolo reports that according to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, approximately 1 million abortions are performed illegally each year in Brazil. In spite of the ban, a 2010 study revealed that 20 percent of Brazilian women under the age of 40 have undergone an abortion, and 55 percent of them have been hospitalized due to resulting complications. The high risk of illegal abortions prompted the Council’s petition, which called the issue of abortion “an urgent matter of public health.”
A change to the law would make Brazil the second country in Latin America to relax abortion prohibitions recently. In October 2012, Uruguay passed the region’s first decriminalization law, permitting abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and allowing late-term abortions when a woman's health is at risk. Brazil’s proposed change goes further, allowing first-trimester abortions even for healthy pregnancies.
President Dilma Rousseff struggled with the issue in her 2010 presidential campaign. Although she initially supported abortion decriminalization, pressure from Catholic voters prompted her to attenuate her position.
In the most populous Catholic country in the world, the petition has provoked condemnation from Brazil’s Council of Bishops. Moreover, the proposal comes just as the selection of an Argentine Pope has drawn attention to reinvigorating Catholicism in Latin America and comes on the heels of Pope Francis’ meeting with Rousseff—only his second meeting with a head of state since his inauguration.
The lower house of Uruguay’s Congress approved a law on Tuesday that authorizes abortion within 12 weeks of conception. The bill was approved by a narrow margin of 50 to 49 votes after 14 hours of debate.
The law project allows abortions only after a woman has met with a team of at least three professionals—a psychologist, a social worker and a “conscientious objector” (also known as an anti-abortion activist)—who can provide information on the risks, alternatives and adoption programs that are available. Five days after such meeting, if the woman confirms her willingness to end the pregnancy, the physicians arrange the procedure. This approval process does not apply in cases of pregnancy caused by rape or when pregnancy represents a high risk for the woman’s health, in which abortion is unrestricted if it happens within the first 14 weeks after conception.
President José Mujica has said he will approve the law if passed by Congress. This is the third attempt to decriminalize abortion promoted by the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) since it assumed power in 2005. In 2008 a law was vetoed by former President Tabaré Vázquez from the FA due to his belief that if abortion is legalized the number of cases will proliferate. Then, in December 2011, the party was only one vote away from passing the bill, but debate was postponed for one more year. According to Iván Posada, a deputy for the Partido Independiente and key advocate of the project, the law “proposes an intermediate solution, the road that is less bad in terms of conflicting values.” It must now be approved by the Senate, where it is expected to pass by the end of the year.
In a region where the majority of people are Catholic, reproductive rights are a highly contested topic in Uruguay, as in the rest of Latin America. Although abortion is legal in several countries—including Cuba, Guayana and Mexico City—this is the first time a South American nation has taken steps toward decriminalizing abortion without restrictions to the reason for this practice. According to Joan Caivano and Jane Marcus-Delgado, 12 percent of all maternal deaths in Latin America are estimated to result from unsafe abortions.
A bill to legalize abortion in Uruguay, having passed the Senate in December 2011, remains stalled in the Chamber of Deputies. Earlier this year, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) coalition, which controls congress and the presidency, was one vote away from agreeing to the Senate bill that would decriminalize abortion within the first 12 weeks after conception.
The deciding vote, from opposition Deputy Iván Posada in the Partido Independiente (Independent Party), offered up a compromise proposal in April that would permit abortion only after a pregnant woman submits to a counseling committee made up of a psychologist, a social worker and a “conscientious objector,” also known as an anti-abortion activist. The woman would then be given five days to decide whether to move forward with the abortion, and allowed to undergo a legal abortion procedure after that waiting period. The bill still remains on the floor in the Chamber of Deputies and Deputy Pedro Abdala of the Partido Nacionalista (Nationalist Party), the second-largest party in congress, favors sending the issue to a national referendum if the bill eventually passes in the Chamber.
In the absence of bill passage, Uruguayan pregnant women are turning to drugs like misoprostol. Obstetricians or gynecologists cannot prescribe misoprostol, although some still do illegally and the drug can be found on the black market. Misoprostol has a 97 percent success rate in terminating a pregnancy, but a 2001 survey shows that 30 percent of female deaths in Uruguay were attributed to illegal abortion measures.
The deadlock in Uruguay underscores Joan Caivano and Jane Marcus-Delgado’s argument in the latest issue of Americas Quarterly: “In Latin America and the Caribbean, 12 percent of all maternal deaths are estimated to have been the result of unsafe abortion. Annually, about 1 million women in the region are hospitalized for complications ranging from excessive blood loss and infection to septic shock arising from unsafe terminations of pregnancy. Despite these dire statistics, and their dramatic effect on women’s health, the efforts to address reproductive rights have been marked by divisive politics.” For more from Ms. Marcus-Delgado, she will be speaking at the Americas Quarterly Summer 2012 issue launch on August 17.
The Argentine Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday to decriminalize abortions in cases of rape. The landmark decision came out of a case where a 15-year-old girl was raped by her stepfather, a senior officer of the police force in the Argentine province of Chubut. In 2010, a Chubut court had ruled in favor of the adolescent having an abortion, which meant that yesterday’s decision formally backed the original ruling. The victim went forward with the abortion after the initial court decision.
Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, abortions were only considered legal in cases where the woman was mentally ill or if her life is threatened by birth. Doctors who performed illegal abortions could have faced between one and four years in prison. But the Supreme Court’s decision now permits doctors to perform abortions with the legal permission of the rape victim without having to seek court orders.
En los últimos seis años de gobierno panista bajo la dirección del Presidente Felipe Calderón, 16 estados de 32 entidades federativas que conforman México han cambiado sus constituciones locales para defender la vida humana desde el momento de la concepción.
La Constitución mexicana salvaguarda el derecho de las mujeres y de las parejas a decidir sobre el número y espaciamiento de las y los hijos, por lo que las recientes enmiendas de las constituciones locales devienen inconstitucionales, incluso ante la prohibición del uso de la píldora del día después y la fertilización in vitro.
La propuesta del ministro Fernando Franco de declarar fuera del marco de la Constitución general mexicana estas reformas estatales, ha despertado un gran debate en el que han tomado partido varias figuras públicas de alto nivel y defensores de derechos humanos como José Narro, rector de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, máxima casa de estudios en México o del ombudsman nacional, Raúl Plascencia.
Sin menospreciar las declaraciones del propio jefe de gobierno del Distrito Federal, Marcelo Ebrard, quien se ha manifestado –profusamente y en repetidas ocasiones—en favor del respeto a la libre decisión de las mujeres sobre su cuerpo, la arenga pública ha advertido que este tipo de prohibiciones pone en entredicho el Estado laico. Pocas naciones en el mundo pueden presumir de esta condición que a México le costó varias guerras y muertes entre los siglos diecinueve y veinte en aras de construir una nación fuerte y democrática.
Pero en este periodo aciago que México vive y la llegada de mentes conservadoras a puestos de poder han inclinado la balanza para que nuestro país se hunda más en el oscurantismo. Tras haber sido durante décadas una nación que mantenía un respetado liderazgo en América Latina, actualmente México—con niveles de desempleo superiores a los vistos en los periodos de crisis, con tasas de crecimiento a la baja durante los últimos 10 años, y en donde se ha recrudecido la violencia contra las mujeres (feminicidio)—se pone a la vanguardia en un afán irrevocable por volver a la ignorancia.
Yesterday was a monumental moment for the future of reproductive rights in Colombia. Five years after Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of abortion under three specific circumstances—rape, risk to the mother's life or congenital malformation of the fetus—the fate of reproductive and sexual rights was on the cusp of change. This would have been a setback for all Colombians.
Instead, the Senate voted against a proposal to overrule the 2006 Constitutional Court decision allowing select abortions. If the Senate bill had passed, it would have prohibited all forms of abortion, and made the use of emergency contraceptives and in vitro fertilization illegal and subject to prosecution. Fortunately, with nine votes against the proposed bill and seven in favor, the status of abortion in Colombia remains the same. The bill did not have the support of Colombia’s inspector general, Alejandro Ordoñez, who despite efforts from the Liberal party, Polo Democratico and grassroots organizations to stop the voting, kept the pressure on.
Reports from Brazil this week indicate that the presidential candidates’ positions on abortion are becoming a significant factor in the country’s October 31 second-round contest between Worker’s Party candidate Dilma Rousseff and her Social Democracy Party opponent José Serra. Abortion has not historically played a prominent role in national elections in Brazil despite having the world’s largest Catholic population and a growing number of evangelical Christians.
The rise to prominence of the abortion issue is likely tied to the candidates’ efforts to woo supporters of Green Party candidate and evangelical Marina Silva, who dropped out of the race after winning an unexpectedly high 19 percent of the national vote. Analysts are now suggesting that the Workers’ Party’s traditional support for abortion and gay marriage may have cost Dilma Rousseff in the first round of voting and could play a defining role in the increasingly tight race's outcome.
In a televised debate last Sunday, Rousseff and Serra publicly clashed on the abortion issue. Serra accused Rousseff of changing her previous stance, while Rousseff responded that Serra “has a thousand faces” and accused him of slander.
Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. Estimates vary, but the Brazilian Ministry of Health claims one million illegal abortions are performed per year and are the fourth largest cause of maternal mortality.