BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Decades of grass roots organizing, with conferences in dwelling rooms and within the streets, on-line and throughout borders, have produced a tectonic shift on abortion in Latin America, a traditionally conservative area the place entry to the process has lengthy been severely restricted.
In simply over a 12 months, Colombia has joined Mexico and Argentina in flattening limitations to abortion. It’s all of the extra hanging in distinction to the shift happening within the United States, the nation whose Supreme Court choice guaranteeing the proper to abortion — Roe v. Wade — had been a seminal spark for a lot of activists in Latin America.
As the United States faces rising restrictions on abortion, feminist activists in Latin America are more and more counting on each other for authorized technique, organizing techniques and inspiration, stating that their counterparts to the north may need one thing to study from them.
“It’s now an inspiration going south to north,” mentioned Catalina Martínez Coral, 37, a Colombian lawyer and member of Causa Justa, the coalition of abortion rights teams that introduced the case just lately thought of by the Colombian court docket. “We are going to inspire people in the United States to defend the rights set out in Roe v. Wade.”
As abortion rights advocates in Colombia ready to make their case earlier than the nation’s highest court docket this 12 months, they drew their techniques from their neighbors: They discovered from attorneys in Mexico, adopted a song-and-dance efficiency just like one in Chile and waved the inexperienced handkerchiefs that first emerged as a logo of the motion in Argentina.
And when the nation’s excessive court docket dominated of their favor on Monday, largely hanging down a measure that made abortion a criminal offense, they gathered exterior the courthouse to rejoice and to thank those that had helped them make the second doable: their companions throughout Latin America.
Abortion nonetheless has loads of opponents within the area, together with the Colombian president, Iván Duque, a conservative who condemned the ruling on Tuesday.
“I am worried that abortion, which goes against life, will become a regular practice,” he informed native media shortly after taking workplace. “And that in a machista country, people will resort to it, and for many it will become a contraceptive in place of the condom.”
But Colombian abortion rights activists insisted this week that the techniques they used to foyer for the decriminalization of abortion would now be utilized by advocates throughout the area, and past.
“The whole world is watching us,” mentioned Natalia Goyeneche, 31, one of many many ladies by the court docket’s steps on Monday because the ruling was introduced.
In Colombia, feminist activists’ name for abortion rights went mainstream during the last two years, as their counterparts received large in neighboring international locations.
The origins of the motion, nevertheless, return a long time — at the least to 1973, when a Colombian gynecologist accepted an invite to go to the United States simply because the U.S. Supreme Court dominated on Roe v. Wade.
The physician, Jorge Villarreal Mejía, had for years had been horrified by the variety of ladies he noticed sick and dying from botched abortions in Colombian hospitals. In the United States, he toured a few of the nation’s earliest authorized abortion clinics. And he returned to Colombia satisfied that he needed to replicate them.
He began a reproductive well being clinic, Oriéntame, within the capital, Bogotá, in 1977. And the group in some ways helped pave the best way for this week’s choice.
Despite a regulation criminalizing abortion, Oriéntame started to overtly assist a whole lot of hundreds of Colombian ladies who had already begun ending their pregnancies — explaining to authorities that they have been serving to ladies who have been already affected by failed or incomplete abortions.
Over the years, Oriéntame was continuously focused by authorities who accused them of breaking the regulation, whereas vandals scrawled “assassins” exterior the workplace. But tensions escalated in 1994, when the police knocked down the clinic’s doorways, weapons drawn, and took off with sufferers’ data, starting a authorized course of that lasted a decade and will have landed Dr. Villarreal in jail.
That was when Cristina Villarreal — Dr. Villareal’s daughter, who was taking up the clinic — determined they wanted to transcend offering medical assist and start uniting with feminist activists working to vary the authorized panorama during which they labored.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to continue on two different roads,” she recollects saying of activists and medical practitioners. “Now is the moment.”
Soon, Ms. Villarreal and others had shaped La Mesa por la Vida y la Salud de las Mujeres, a coalition whose major objective was to remove the regulation criminalizing abortion.
For Colombia, she mentioned, “this was totally, totally radical and revolutionary.”
But placing the problem on the general public agenda was tough, and never simply because abortion was opposed by the highly effective Catholic Church and a lot of the public.
“This is a country, as you know, that has been beaten by conflict and war,” mentioned Ana Cristina González Vélez, 53, a co-founder of the group, including, “That meant that for many years ending the conflict occupied the agendas of women’s groups.”
Pushing for legalization of abortion by way of Colombia’s Congress appeared a lifeless finish. More than a half-dozen makes an attempt had failed when, round 2004, a Colombian lawyer named Mónica Roa approached the Mesa and proposed a brand new tactic.
Ms. Roa had just lately returned from the United States, the place was she was working for a authorized advocacy group referred to as the Center for Reproductive Rights. She would go to the nation’s Constitutional Court — famously extra liberal than its Congress — and argue that the regulation criminalizing abortion violated ladies’s rights to life, well being and reproductive autonomy.
In 2006, she achieved a serious victory for the motion, when the court docket dominated that the nation should permit abortions when a girl’s well being was in danger, when a fetus had severe well being issues or when a being pregnant resulted from rape.
Just a few different Latin American international locations had related choices on the books, however public coverage and opinion weighed so strongly towards the process that in observe few ladies might receive authorized abortions. And so, following the 2006 ruling, Colombian activists started to show ladies in different international locations to make use of the exceptions allowed underneath the regulation.
“Without a doubt, we learned from the Colombians,” mentioned Giselle Carino, an Argentine activist with the group Fòs Feminista.
But in Colombia, prosecutors have been nonetheless investigating a whole lot of ladies a 12 months for having abortions, whereas many ladies have been nonetheless dying following illicit procedures.
Around 2016, the ladies devised a brand new technique — one supposed to vary each the authorized panorama and public opinion, with a robust public consciousness element.
As the Colombians labored, Argentine feminists started a marketing campaign to push legalization by way of Congress. Their effort included a whole lot of hundreds of ladies marching within the streets, united by an simply identifiable image: a inexperienced handkerchief.
Their use of scarves was itself impressed by an earlier era of feminine activists, referred to as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore white kerchiefs to protest the kidnapping and killing of their youngsters by the Argentine dictatorship.
“Part of our strategy was: How do we change the conversation in the country, how do we put this on the public agenda?” mentioned Ms. Martínez, one of many Colombian activists. “And that’s what we learned from the Argentines.”
In late 2019, Argentina’s Congress legalized abortion — and two months later, simply because the pandemic was starting, Colombia’s Causa Justa coalition was born.
This time, they’d campaigns on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, and marched throughout the nation. They had a radio marketing campaign focusing on areas with restricted connectivity, and a reggaeton tune that they carried out within the streets.
They referred to as on celebrities to overtly help them. Suddenly, public officers have been being pressured to declare a place on the subject, and inexperienced scarves began appearing on necks, backpacks and bicycles throughout Bogotá.
And in September 2020, a bunch of attorneys from Causa Justa — drawing on authorized classes from Canada — despatched a petition to the Constitutional Court, arguing that in observe, the existence of a regulation criminalizing abortion violated a girl’s “fundamental right” to voluntary termination of being pregnant underneath the exceptions specified by 2006.
On Monday, judges voted 5 to 4 of their favor, decriminalizing abortion as much as 24 weeks.
Over the previous few a long time, Oriéntame has educated hundreds of medical professionals throughout Latin America, lots of whom have replicated the clinic in their very own international locations. Dr. Villarreal died in 2001.
Nearly all the activists interviewed mentioned that Roe v. Wade had been a touchstone for them, main them to consider that the authorized system might be used to assist ladies achieve better management over their lives.
Many now struggled to know why the United States seemed to be transferring in the wrong way.
“This is a battle that is never completely won,” Ms. Villarreal suggested her counterparts to the north. “You can’t let your guard down.”
Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.