In the past year in Latin America—where unsafe, illegal, clandestine abortion has long been a silent fact of women's lives and a stark reminder of the power that the Church and the State exercise over women's bodies—both Colombia and Mexico City have eased their stringent restrictions on safe and legal abortion. In May 2006, Colombia's Supreme Court overturned that country's draconian ban on abortion under any circumstances, and just this past month, Mexico City followed suit. The victories may seem small in a region where safe abortion remains, for the most part, heavily restricted, but they are nonetheless significant.
Meanwhile, in October 2006, women in Nicaragua lost their 130-year-old right to therapeutic abortion (abortion to save a woman's life) in the space of a few weeks. I have written extensively about the ban and its devastating effects on this site, but today I want to share some candid reflections from one of my Nicaraguan colleagues, feminist activist Evelyn Flores Mayorga of Puntos de Encuentro, on how the ban happened, and what has happened since:
In Nicaragua, the women's movement has various expressions. Currently, the primary leadership rests with the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM), the Feminist Movement (MF), and the Women's Network Against Violence (RMCV), which bring together feminist women, activists for women's rights, and members of women's centers and groups that provide women with legal assistance, health care, and other kinds of support. When, in August 2006, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church moved beyond its traditional opposition to abortion to take a public position against therapeutic abortion, the women's movement did not succeed in mounting a unified response. We failed to coordinate our actions, and instead confronted the situation with dispersion and disunity. We failed to influence our elected representatives, and so they took away one of our health rights.
What has happened so far in 2007? The women's movement is conducting trainings, outreach, campaigns, research, forums, and other activities so that the general population, the decision-makers, and the justices of Nicaragua's Supreme Court recognize the difference between abortion and therapeutic abortion—which, in simple language, is the interruption of a pregnancy for medical reasons.
The most recent survey has shown that 55 percent of the population thinks that therapeutic abortion should be legal—which means that even though religious norms dictate that all pregnancies (independent of whether they were conceived by mutual consent, by rape, or by unilateral decision) must end in the birth of a child, 55 percent of Nicaraguans recognize that under certain medical circumstances, women should be allowed to make decisions about their own lives, and to interrupt their pregnancies so that they can receive medical treatment and become pregnant again when they are in a better state of health. Recognition is growing for a woman's right to life, for a woman's right to exercise her right to life, and for the idea that women's rights cannot be subordinated to the rights of the unborn.