Reproductive Rights Activists Lament Setbacks in Latin America

By | June 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22 (C-Fam) Reproductive rights activists hosted a panel during the meeting of the Organization of American States that attempted to link the democracy deficit in Latin America to the lack of abortion rights. The tragic plight of women in Venezuela, however, ended up overshadowing their agenda.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights law firm, co-hosted the expert event with worldwide abortion provider International Planned Parenthood at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C.

Julissa Mantilla, from the Pontifical University of Peru, called lack of access to abortion “obstetric violence” against women. Catalina Botero, from the University of the Andes, lamented an upswing of conservative politicians, primarily Evangelicals, who she said slow-rolled implementation of abortion laws and did not propagate “information” about abortion rights broadly enough. Botero worked to legalize abortion in her native Colombia in 2006 and has served as the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since 2008.

An official from Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) told panelists there needed to be more focus on adolescent girls. The PAHO executive committee meets this week and will consider the Plan of Action for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health 2018-2030 that calls for increased access to “confidential” sexual and reproductive health services and commodities for children, and the use of schools to expand access to information and commodities, including dangerous long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) for girls.

There was a noticeable change in mood in the room when Miriam Kornblith from the National Endowment for Democracy concluded the panel with a sobering talk about the plight of women in Venezuela. She said it was a “humanitarian catastrophe” never seen before in Latin America. Kornblith said more than ninety-one percent of Venezuelans, 118 women for every 100 men, live in poverty today. On average they have lost fourteen pounds due to malnutrition. Five to seven thousand emigrate every day, mostly those who can afford to, creating a flow of refugees to Brazil and Colombia.

Regarding reproductive health, she said maternal health care is virtually gone and the mother-to-child HIV transmission rate has skyrocketed due to the lack of C-section capabilities. Babies are born severely malnourished to malnourished mothers as maternal death rates increase, and six women die every day from curable breast cancer. The World Bank stopped publishing statistics on inflation and health in 2013 due to lack of information, but indications are that inflation has doubled or tripled monthly. Thirty percent of households are apparently led by women, who are left to take care of children and the elderly. A reported fifty-seven percent say they are not able to feed the seniors in their care.

When an audience member told Kornblith she “did not get the memo” about the panel’s focus on abortion, she said she intentionally aimed at refocusing the discussion to the real needs of women in Latin America. She pointed out the irony that the Chavez-Maduro regime ran on platforms of helping women and other vulnerable populations. She concluded her remarks by saying if you want to help women, “take care of your democracies, ladies.”

Ismini Anastassiou, president of the Chilean pro-life group ISFEM, told the Friday Fax that she found the panel encouraging. “CRR and IPPF failed to make any real connection between democracy and abortion rights,” she said, “though their focus on using the freedom of expression to spread ‘information’ about abortion is troubling.”