Moving Closer to the Legalization of Abortion in Argentina

The feminist movement is about to achieve a historic conquest in Argentina. After years of struggle and social debate, President Alberto Fernandez has announced the introduction of a bill for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy. It adds to the bill of the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion (which has already been introduced eight times and was first debated in 2018), and would legalise abortion in Argentina.

At Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Choose), we have witnessed firsthand the growth of the ‘green wave‘. The movement convenes activists across generations and calls for the dismantling of patriarchal structures to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Green Wave Reaches Congress 

Photo by Natalia Roca

We have actively participated in the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion since its founding. Early pioneers would collect signatures in city squares to support the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy bill that they themselves had written. Today, young women march with the green scarf of autonomy over their bodies.

It was a long time before the bill was discussed in Congress. And though it was finally rejected by the Senate, there was extensive debate. The green wave managed to consolidate a collective voice that continues to defend abortion as a matter of public health, social justice and human rights. We claim autonomy over our bodies as an unavoidable step towards full citizenship and the lay state as the fundamental axis for guaranteeing rights. 

As Catholic and feminist activists, we pose the need to remove religion from the heart of the debate.

By doing so, we can reveal the moral and religious background behind the arguments against women’s autonomy. Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has not held a unique position on abortion. Biblical texts have not included it as a central moral issue. Feminist theology gives us a broader vision that can help us to build more inclusive churches. It also enables us to guarantee the secularity of the state while taking into account the diversity of opinions and realities. Therefore, our view reflects the possibility of being women of faith and supporting the right to choose.

One of the phrases we have printed on our green scarves and T-shirts is: “Mary was asked to be the mother of Christ”. These are not just words. They signal an ethical position from which we consider the decisions women make throughout their lives. They call for attentive listening in order to defend the life and health of all those with the ability to gestate.

Abortion as a Debt of Democracy

In Argentina, interruption of pregnancy is currently legal only if the pregnancy is the result of a rape or the pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger. However, there are still multiple barriers that force women to resort to clandestine, and often unsafe, abortions. These include: disparity in access to information and quality health services, professionals who present themselves as conscientious objectors, multiple inequalities that persist in our country, and moral and religious prejudices.

There are approximately 54 abortions per hour in Argentina. That’s 1300 per day and 520,000 per year. At least 3040 women have died from unsafe abortions in the last 30 years. During 2018, seven girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth per day. Every day we are faced with a critical scenario regarding the health of women and girls. The more time we take to ensure access to sexual and reproductive rights, the more lives will be impacted.

Photo by Emergentes

What does the bill presented by the @CampAbortoLegal say?

1. It guarantees access to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. After the 14th week, it authorizes the procedures with no time limit or judicial complaint if a woman’s life or health is at risk, or in the case of rape.

2. It defines health according to the World Health Organization – complete physical, mental and social well-being – and defines the right to abortion as a human right. Abortion as a right must be included in the contents of comprehensive sex education, as well as in teachers’ training courses and courses for health care professionals. 

3. It guarantees abortion without distinction of origin, nationality, residence and/or citizenship of the person who requests it. People who are migrants in transit are included. Furthermore, the practice must be guaranteed within the five calendar days in which the abortion is requested. The person seeking the abortion must sign an informed consent form, and this must be the ONLY pre-requisite.

4. It guarantees access to information on abortion. This must be relevant, accurate, secular, up-to-date and scientific, in the language that the person communicates in and in accessible formats. The person may request counselling, but it is not mandatory.

5. It guarantees the right to abortion access for children and teenagers. In all cases, the best interests of the child must prevail. No person can be replaced in the exercise of the right to decide. All insurance plans, health care systems and prepaid private systems must guarantee the practice free of charge. This will be a Public Order Act and its implementation is compulsory throughout the territory of the Nation.

It Will be Law

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the infection, and we understand the need to give priority to the global health crisis we are currently facing. We also know that, sooner rather than later, we will achieve the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act in Argentina. Meanwhile, we will continue working and collaborating to get through this pandemic. Special attention must be paid to the impact of COVID-19 on women, sexual minorities and other vulnerable sectors of our society. We will continue accompanying those who need us, fighting for our rights, and building a world of justice. Together, we are making history. There is no turning back.

We are organized and we have political experience – accumulated over many years of struggle. Working together with a network of health professionals, lawyers, journalists and teachers, we have strengthened ourselves. We have developed response mechanisms to assist, guide and train people who need it. Our strength is collective and it is nourished by the intergenerational exchanges that have made this green wave possible. It is a green wave that fills us with pride.

Since 2018, when more than one million people flooded the streets, we have witnessed the growth of the movement, the intensification of social debate and the building of consensus that influences public opinion. We have no doubt that the right to abortion will be law in Argentina and when that day comes, it will find us together.

Photo by Emergentes

Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir Argentina is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.

Challenging Prejudices in Girls’ Circles

The following account, written by Aleta, comes from a Girl Determined Circle at a Buddhist monastery in a rural village on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.

“They have beards…They are not welcome here…They are bad people,” explain the girls matter-of-factly when asked about Muslims.

In a country where divisive prejudices based on religion and culture have kept it at war with itself for over half a century, such beliefs are deeply rooted.  Myanmar is known for being predominantly Buddhist, a religion considered by outsiders as one of the most tolerant and peaceful, teaching that practicing kindness to others will bring an individual good karma. So, what has aroused such hatred towards another group of people?

Mud puddles linger on the small dirt field behind the monastery. The girls set up their makeshift bamboo-pole net and mark out boundary lines with small plastic cones, as they do routinely every week. Curious boys and younger children gather around the edges of the field to watch, and to fetch stray volleyballs.

The girls arrive in simple cotton trousers with t-shirts or light floral dresses, the muddy ground seeming not to deter them in the slightest. They go about their drills without hesitation – taking it in turns to set the volleyball back to the server, toes squelching in the mud and feet disappearing into puddles.  Mini matches follow, and in contrast with their early timid nature and orderly appearance, the girls’ behaviour gradually becomes more competitive as the session progresses and their confidence grows.

When the session ends, ‘Ma Josephine’, Girl Determined’s ‘Colorful Girls’ Sports Coordinator, sits down with a group of girls in their first year of the program. They have just completed a module on trafficking and safe migration, so the discussion veers towards unsafe situations and how to protect yourself. A few girls speak up to explain that they feel unsafe around men and around Muslim people. Picking up on the blatant discrimination and entrenched prejudices, Josephine reacts swiftly abut gently, bringing the issue closer to home by asking what the girls would think if a Muslim person came into their community.

“We would not like him…They would not be welcome here…He would be a bad person,” they answer without hesitation.

Similar answers continue until Josephine suggests the girls pause for a moment and think.  Using a calm voice, her next words seemed momentarily to stump the group: “What if I told you that I was Muslim? Would that make me a bad person? Would you not want to talk to me?”

“Well, we would still like you,” chime several of the girls, “We like talking to you…It wouldn’t matter then, because we know you and you are a kind and fun person.”

“So,” Josephine reasons, “just because someone has a certain belief or background that is different from you, does that mean that person is automatically bad?  No, it does not, because they might also be a nice and fun person.  Therefore, shall we agree that not all Muslims are bad people? And shall we perhaps not be too quick to judge someone based on a single piece of information about them, with a presumption that may or may not be accurate, but might instead be hurtful?”

There are nods of agreement and giggles from the girls, alongside a few genuinely contemplative faces.

Time is up and the session ends. That was all the time Josephine had available to unpack complex cultural myths, for it was only a short visit to a sports session, but already many of the girls had shown willingness to challenge the status quo. In that short time, a few girls’ seemingly steadfast prejudices had already been brought into question.

As you will have read in the media, there has been a recent surge in tragic violence in Myanmar’s westernmost Rakhine State. The violence, a complicated mix of communal distrust, military force and, of course, the realities of the history of the area, has prompted critical discussions in our weekly adolescent girls’ Circles.

Intended to be safe spaces, ‘Colorful Girls’ Circles and sports sessions enable girls to discuss issues, feelings, opinions and concern freely. Discussions about people who are ‘different’ are common and integral to our ethos. While a significant number of girls and staff in our programs come from minority groups, the composition of each Circle depends on the demographics of each community.

This session with Ma Josephine may have been the first time some of the girls had ever been prompted to think critically about their assumptions.  A seed had been planted in their minds, and even if they had not entirely changed their opinion, at least they had been presented with a different perspective and an opportunity to try understanding an issue that has fueled ongoing conflict for centuries.  In a country with one of the longest-standing civil wars, tolerance is nothing short of essential if peace and equal rights are to be realized.

While there is still much to be done, we are slowly but surely equipping more and more girls with the necessary skills and understanding around conflict resolution, human dignity, and the benefits of being ‘colorful.’

The Hidden Story of Holi

Written by Stephanie Arzate, Research and Communications Fellow

Tomorrow, on March 22nd, most Hindus in South Asia will celebrate Holi, the spring festival marking the change of seasons, and most popularly known for the throwing of bright, colorful powder.

Holi is a holiday that captivates those outside of the mostly Hindu, South Asian countries that celebrate it. One doesn’t need to go far to see the fascination with, what on cameras, is truly a beautiful spectacle. Coldplay’s most recent video, “Hymn for the Weekend”, features a group of children running around the streets of Mumbai throwing colored powder in the air. While the video has been criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of the religious holiday, there is another element that is rarely discussed about Holi—it is often a time of grotesque street harassment for women and girls.

Holi-1“I hate Holi,” my Nepali coworker, Aparna, recently told me.

“Yeah, my mother doesn’t even let me go out of the house during Holi,” my twenty-year-old intern added.

I recently moved to Nepal to start a job at Women LEAD, the first and only professional and leadership development organization for young women in the country. While I have lived in both India and Nepal before, I was surprised by their aversion to a holiday that I always thought was so mesmerizing. Unlike the romantic scenes we might see unfold in Bollywood movies or on college campuses, I quickly learned of the danger of being a woman during Holi.

Of the girls in our program that I spoke to, all of them told me about the extreme lengths they went to in order to avoid men and boys who might come up to them and hit them with water balloons filled with color. Others talked about unsolicited touching they received from strangers on the street, some of whom they also said were drunk.

Holi-2“Not a single woman or girl is spared during this time of the year,” one program participant, who asked me to withhold her name, said. “Not unless you’re walking with your father or elder brother and they act as a human shield.

“I was once walking with my sister on my way to school and we knew we were going to be targeted,” she continued. “So we did what we could. We carried umbrellas with us. And if someone were to attack us from the front, we were ready with stones for the reply!”

This is the hidden story of Holi. Instead of the colorful, glamorous images that come to mind, instead of a holiday where both women and men are able to celebrate the upcoming season, Holi has become a day when girls must either shield themselves from physical violence, or choose to stay at home.

But despite the anxiety some women and girls fear each year as Holi approaches, other girls spoke of the opportunities that exist to reclaim the holiday’s meaning.

“We need to start speaking more about this,” said another girl in our program. “All of us have been there. But we rarely talk about it. We definitely need to share more of our stories.”

For Aparna, she believes that men and boys can play a crucial role in reclaiming the holiday for women and girls.

“I think one of the reasons this [harassment] occurs is because of the way society views women and girls. So the intervention needs to educate men and boys. We need to tell them that attacking people on the streets is a major form of harassment.”

Tomorrow, whether we’ll be celebrating in the streets of Nepal or watching dramatizations on our screens, let us mark the changing of the seasons with a change in how this festival is celebrated—and perceived—so that it is a joyful and free experience for all.

What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

#JoinTheDissent: America Has ‘Ventured Into A Minefield’

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

I am so angry about the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision I don’t know where to begin. I had to wait a few days to write a post about the ruling in order to let the reality of it all sink in. Did SCOTUS really just favor major corporations’ religious beliefs over women’s health?

In case you haven’t heard, SCOTUS ended in a split 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store. It is no surprise that the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religion over women’s health argument were all conservative Catholic men and have never used nor will ever use contraceptives in their lives.

The official ruling allows ‘closely-held’ corporations with strong religious beliefs to deny coverage of certain forms of birth control. Contrary to what you may believe, ‘closely-held’ does not mean small. According to the IRS, a company is closely-held if five or fewer people own more than half the corporation, a definition that now represents 90 percent of American businesses. For example, Hobby Lobby is considered closely-held yet it has over 500 locations and over 16,000 employees. And don’t think that this decision stops with Hobby Lobby. At least 100 more for-profit companies, from the very small to the gigantic, think birth control is murder and will soon join the ranks of corporations with health insurance policies that refuse to cover certain contraceptive methods.

Supporters of SCOTUS’ decision might say, “If you don’t like Hobby Lobby’s beliefs, go work somewhere else.” That’s easier said than done. According to recent statistics, one in three Americans fell below the poverty line for at least two months between 2009 and 2011 – the majority of whom were women and children. These individuals cannot afford to choose not to work anywhere.

What’s more, SCOTUS’ decision goes against the majority of Americans who, in a recent poll, disagreed with the notion that employers should be able to choose what contraceptives their health plans provide based on religious beliefs. As a result, SCOTUS has essentially ruled that corporations have the right to enforce religiously based policies because, you know, corporations are people too.

Even though this ruling only specifically mentions contraceptives, SCOTUS’ decision opens the floodgates for corporations to argue that their religious beliefs contradict the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal law.

Does your employer believe in Scientology? Technically, a company can now refuse to cover antidepressants and any type of psychiatric treatment. Is your employer a Jehovah’s Witness corporation? Guess what, you no longer have surgical coverage since they do not believe in blood transfusions. Do you work for a Jewish or Hindu company? Bad news. Your employer can refuse to cover any medications derived from pigs including anesthetics, intravenous fluids, or medications coated in gelatin. Does your employer reject to vaccinations on religious grounds? We may soon all be exposed to diseases that have long been extinct – especially children.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

But wait, there’s more.

Don’t believe in homosexuality? Refuse to hire LGBT applicants. Don’t believe in Judaism? Refuse to hire Jews. Anti-discrimination laws have essentially been thrown out the window – all in the name of ‘religious freedom.’

One must wonder, would the ruling have been the same if Hobby Lobby was owned by a Muslim family attempting to impose Sharia Law on its employees?

And let’s get one thing straight. When women take birth control, they do not automatically become a sex-crazed fiend who goes about her days and nights searching for her next sexual target, only to inevitably get pregnant and immediately abort the baby. Women on birth control are just that – women on birth control. They are no different than men who use condoms or men who get vasectomies. (Vasectomies, by the way, are still covered – as is Viagra.)

Even though the ruling covers only four types of methods, limiting women’s access to IUDs and morning-after pills, oral contraceptives may not be far behind. Just one day after the ruling, ‘the Supreme Court all but confirmed its decision applies to all contraception coverage.’ Should that be the case (God forbid), let’s be clear: oral contraceptives can serve a greater medical purpose than merely preventing pregnancies. Birth control pills have been found to lower the likelihood of endometrial and ovarian cancers; ease the symptoms of endometriosis; and provide relief for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, severe acne, and heavy and painful periods.

This ruling is an attack on women and on women’s health.

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, believe that life begins at conception. Honestly, I disagree, but I respect their opinion. My problem comes with the belief that certain forms of birth control (morning-after pills and IUDs) are essentially abortifacients, meaning they kill fertilized embryos rather than prevent contraception.

First of all, the belief that these contraceptives kill fertilized embryos is simply scientifically wrong. Studies have shown that morning-after pills prevent pregnancy by inhibiting or preventing ovulation and IUDs prevent sperm from reaching the egg. As you can see, neither of these methods involve the killing of anything or anyone. Additionally, as an IUD-user, I take offense to the idea that I have been continuously having abortions since its insertion a few years ago. My doctor recommended that I switch to the IUD because I have epilepsy and, in my case, IUDs are much safer and more effective, as birth control pills can interfere with the effectiveness of my seizure medications.

“You have a 34-year-old woman with diabetes and hypertension, she’s not going to be served as well with an oral contraceptive as she is with an IUD. It’s such a personal decision, that should be made between a physician and patient based on the risks and benefits. Having Supreme Court justices make that decision is just inappropriate.” – Dr. Jeanne Conry, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists immediate past president

When the ACA passed, many considered it a win for the health of the entire country, but particularly for the health of women. A provision in the ACA mandated that organizations include all forms of birth control in their healthcare plans without enforcing additional costs on female employees. Under the ACA, most for-profit companies are required to comply or else pay fines. We, as a nation, were headed on the right track. No longer would people be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition and no longer would women suffer the brunt of the insurance company’s sexist policies, policies which often unjustly charged them more just for having the biological ability to bear a child (i.e. more costs for insurance companies to cover).

As of Monday, we are no longer on the right track. In fact, we are nowhere near the track. With one court case, SCOTUS has set women in America back over 40 years to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. Before the ruling, America ranked 31st in global maternal health rankings. With the court’s appalling and terrifying decision, we are doomed to drop even lower.

The good news (if good news even exists in this situation), is that men and women across the country are not taking this ruling lying down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing 35-page dissent and defended mandatory contraception coverage. The dissent includes numerous quotables, too many to list if I am trying to keep this blog short and concise. Read highlights here.

“The burden of paying out of pocket for contraception has now unfairly shifted to women whose bosses’ religious beliefs conflict with their own.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Medical professionals from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that said the College was ‘profoundly disappointed’ by the ruling.

Democrats are already preparing four different response strategies:

  1. Writing a new regulation requiring an insurer to cover the cost of contraception that the corporation claiming a religious objection refused to cover;
  2. Having the government, in some fashion, cover the cost of that contraception;
  3. Amending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was the basis of Hobby Lobby’s successful lawsuit) to specify that corporations are not granted certain protections given to individuals and others; or
  4. Amending the statute in the opposite direction, by adding explicit language protecting individuals from having employers’ religious beliefs imposed on them.

Social media has become a megaphone amplifying American women’s and men’s frustration with the ruling. On Twitter and Instagram, users are using #Dirty100#NotMyBossBusiness#JointheDissent and #HobbyLobby to voice their concern and anger. The hashtag #DrHobbyLobby has also gone viral, allowing users to vent their frustrations by poking fun at the idea that Hobby Lobby can make medical decisions for its employees.

On YouTube, a video of a young man putting Ginsburg’s words into song has been featured on The Huffington Post and, as of this writing, has over 160,000 views.

Are you a woman or a girl? Are you a man or boy with a mother, daughter, wife, sister, girlfriend, female friend, or female relative? If you answered yes to any of these questions, SCOTUS’ ruling directly affects you. It’s time take action.

Join the Dissent.

Learn more about the ruling:

*UPDATE: The Supreme Court has broadened the Hobby Lobby ruling to include ALL forms of birth control and LGBT anti-discrimination exceptions are in the works. 

Cover Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons