Pro-choice movement gains momentum in Latin America

Several weeks pregnant and about to move for a new job, Mexican resident Lupita Ruiz wanted to end her pregnancy - despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion.

She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours away who agreed to do it in secret.

Five years later, lawmakers in her home state of Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies - part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

"We talk about it socially amongst ourselves now. Young people and older people talk about it. I can talk about it with my mom, I can talk about it with my grandmother. I think we've advanced socially through collective action."

Ruiz herself is active in the movement, helping to craft the Chiapas initiative.

While a patchwork of state restrictions apply in Mexico, several Latin American nations ban abortion outright… including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison.

Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.

Only Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.

But change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region.

In Argentina, roughly one million women came out in 2018 to rally for a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass in Pope Francis’s home country.

The movement spurring new center-left Argentine president Alberto Fernandez to propose a new bill last month.

"Abortions occur clandestinely and they put the lives and health at risk of the women who are subject to them. Therefore, the dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system."

In Chile, activists like Anita Pena are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand upon a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.

"Chile is facing a scenario of very substantive social and political change. This is a historic moment for feminist organizations.”

But activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.

As in Brazil, where far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to veto any pro-choice bills.

For Pena, it’s a reminder to push even harder, telling Reuters (quote) "no fight is ever finished."

Video Transcript

- Several weeks pregnant and about to move for a new job, Mexican resident Lupita Ruiz wanted to end her pregnancy despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion. She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours away who agreed to do it in secret.

Five years later, lawmakers in her home state of Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws.

LUPITA RUIZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: We talk about it socially amongst ourselves now. Young people and older people talk about it. I can talk about it with my mom. I can talk about it with my grandmother. I think we've advanced socially through collective action.

- Ruiz herself is active in the movement, helping to craft the Chiapas initiative.

While a patchwork of state restrictions apply in Mexico, several Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region's most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances such as rape or health risk to the mother. Only Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.

But change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. In Argentina, roughly 1 million women came out in 2018 to rally for a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass in Pope Francis's home country. The movement spurring new center-left Argentine President Alberto Fernandez to propose a new bill last month.

ALBERTO FERNANDEZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: Abortions occur clandestinely, and they put the lives and health at risk of the women who are subject to them. Therefore, the dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system.

- In Chile, activists like Anita Pena are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand upon a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother's life in cases of rape or if the fetus is not viable.

ANITA PENA: [SPEAKING SPANISH]

INTERPRETER: Chile is facing a scenario of very substantive social and political change. This is a historic moment for feminist organizations.

- But activists agree there is still a long way to go with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries, as in Brazil where far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to veto any pro-choice bills. For Pena, it's a reminder to push even harder, telling Reuters, quote, "no fight is ever finished."