As the movement to codify rights in the U.S. has been blocked, the coordinated efforts of Latin American activists have been cause for rethinking how to protect reproductive rights.
[Story by Mara Cavallaro & Ricardo Gomez; Photo by Alexis Terrazas — Mara Cavallaro is El Tecolote’s Report for America Corps Member who reports on mental health and healthcare inequality in the Latinx community.]
In a historic referendum earlier this month, Chileans voted against a redrafted constitution that would have addressed the climate crisis, recognized Indigenous sovereignty, codified the right to abortion, and replaced Pinochet’s dictatorship-era doctrines.
The devastating rejection of the new constitution — by a margin of 24 percent, despite 78 percent voting earlier in favor of a rewrite — came after months of misinformation on social media. In a joint letter to the owners of Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok, five U.S. representatives demanded the companies address their platforms’ proliferation of inaccurate information. In Chile, journalists referred to the thousands of accounts dedicated to attacking the redraft as a “digital troop” in a war against the Constitutional Convention. One repeated anti-‘apruebo’ lie was that the new constitution would legalize abortion up until the moment of birth.
In California, the state constitution is similarly a site of political momentum that may reshape how we safeguard abortion rights. The same day the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe was leaked, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed an amendment that would protect reproductive freedom in the state constitution. The Monday after the official judicial decision on Roe, on June 27, the state legislature voted to send it to a referendum. This November, California voters will see the measure — Proposition 1 — on the ballot, and determine whether abortion and contraception will be recognized as constitutional rights. As city councils in conservative towns like San Clemente threaten to prohibit facilities that provide abortion (this resolution has, thankfully, since been voted down) at the state level, legislators are working to protect reproductive rights.
Even so, U.S.-based feminist Jenny Brown stresses the importance of organizing outside of the liberal power structure’s ‘approved’ avenues. “Abortion rights are not going to be won or lost through established channels alone, judicial or legal or otherwise,” she wrote for Jacobin. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade affirmed that judicial protections alone were not, and are not, enough. Now, the widespread urgency to establish the right to make decisions about our bodies requires we reimagine how to do so.
Chile’s process of reconstitution offers one such vision of mobilization, convening a group of non-“career” politicians — led by a Mapuche woman — to rewrite the document and vote on popular initiatives. The day before the plebiscite, Idle No More SF Bay, a local intergenerational Native rights group, was one of seventeen North American Indigenous organizations and Nations to co-sign a letter applauding the redrafted constitution for its commitment to Indigenous self-determination. While the proposed constitution was not voted in, the fight to replace the doctrines of Pinochet’s dictatorship is by no means over.
As the movement to codify rights in the U.S. has been blocked, the coordinated efforts of Latin American activists have been cause for rethinking how to protect reproductive rights. In Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, mass movement politics over the last five years have produced transformative shifts, resulting in the decriminalization of abortion. In Chile, it was the work of grassroots feminist organizers that put abortion rights on the constitutional radar. Beginning as a popular initiative, the measure surpassed the 15,000 signatures required for consideration and was then approved by an overwhelming majority of the constitutional convention.
For Verónica Gago, a member of Argentina’s Ni Una Menos collective, the success of recent Latin American feminist movements can be attributed to their ubiquity. The “green tide” — an Argentinan feminist collective and reference to the green bandanas that symbolize abortion rights activism — “flooded spaces everywhere, including schools, slums, unions, squares and soup kitchens,” she wrote in The Guardian. Flooding these shared spaces, occupying government buildings, and leading strikes has created a greater sense of common cause, uniting people outside of ‘established’ political channels, and creating new political terrain.
Across the U.S., protesters have turned to Latin American pro-choice imagery in their demonstrations. In New York, following the Roe decision leak, crowds of protesters raised green posters — some in Spanish — and wore green clothing and bandanas. In San Francisco, high school students marched in green as part of national walkout to “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights,” in a symbolic display of international struggle and solidarity. Aurea Bolaños Perea, communications manager at COLOR, a Colorado-based reproductive rights organization, has a tattoo of an Aztec goddess who wears a green pañuelo. “[Latin American movements] have been incredible to not only draw inspiration from but to be reassured [by] …. ” she told El Tecolote. “It’s not about making a seat at the table, it’s about deconstructing those oppressive systems and constructing a system that [ensures] liberation and freedom for all people. That’s one thing that 8-M [in Mexico] and the marea verde [in Argentina] do.”
Among Latin American activists, the popular slogan “aborto legal, seguro, y gratuito,” also brings sharply into focus the relationship between rights and access. “Legality doesn’t equal access, and access doesn’t equal equity, or affordability. When we think about abortion justice, we’re talking about having folks in health centers who speak your language … having abortion [be] free, [getting rid of] public funding bans, having private insurance cover [abortions] without any stipulations, [and having] access to more providers [in] rural communities … Roe was never enough,” Christina Soliz, COLOR’s political director, told El Tecolote. Abortion rights organizations like COLOR, Indigenous Women Rising, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Rights stress the reality that communities of color have been facing barriers to abortion healthcare for decades. “Before the fall of Roe, we already didn’t have equal access to abortion,” the latter said on Twitter.
The lauded 1973 Roe decision fundamentally protected abortion rights, not on the basis of women’s freedom, equality, or autonomy, but on the basis of privacy in doctor-patient relations. “Under Roe, women were free to ‘choose’ without the government stopping them — but also without any social and financial support to provide the conditions for meaningfully free choice, and with women’s freedom protected not in its own right but as a corollary of others’ (doctors’, husbands’) freedom,” reproductive justice historian Carolyn McConnell wrote for Jacobin. By 1976, in an example of neoliberal ideology gutting social policies, anti-choice Congressman Henry J. Hyde spearheaded a ban preventing federal funding of abortions. Today, abortions cost $530 on average.
At the state level, healthcare programs now have the option to provide and fund abortions, to provide them without funding, or to create outright bans. In California, for instance, abortions are covered by Medi-Cal. Privatized care deductibles and co-pay charges average $543 for medication abortions and $887 for abortion procedures, even though private health insurance companies are required to cover abortions. In her aptly titled article “Roe Was Always a Terrible Basis for Abortion Rights. Now We Can Fight for Something Better,” McConnell writes, “we need not just the right to choose an abortion, but the right to get one, socially funded if necessary.”