Global Policy Forum

'Pro-Life' Pressure Fails to Thwart 'Sexual Rights' in Latin America

Push Journal
June 16, 2004

'Pro-Life' Pressure Fails to Thwart 'Sexual Rights' in Latin AmericaThe Ninth Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Mexico City from 10-12 June ended in a victory for sexual and reproductive rights, despite reported attempts by the US to ''blackmail several delegations to prevent the use of the terms 'sexual and reproductive rights' in the final document.''

The Bush administration and conservative ‘pro-life' groups, adhere to the view that the mere mention of sexual and reproductive rights is equivalent to promoting abortion. They demand that only the term ‘reproductive health' be employed.

Lilián Celiberti, with the Articulación Feminista Marcosur, an umbrella of women's groups from South America's Mercosur trade bloc said that several of the delegations participating in the regional conference, especially the ones from certain Central American countries, received direct threats from Washington that their financial assistance would be cut if they agreed to the use of the term ‘sexual rights.'

However, in the final declaration, the region committed itself to debating and implementing legislation that: "Guarantees the responsible exercise of sexual and reproductive rights and access without discrimination to health services, encompassing sexual and reproductive health."

That priority, along with the goal of guaranteeing gender equality, and the fight against gender violence, will be the objectives forwarded by Latin America at next year's Beijing+10 Conference in New York, to be held 10 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China. The conference also recommended that abortion should not be promoted as a family planning method; the number of abortions should be reduced by guaranteeing access to contraceptives; women should have access to services to manage the complications of unsafe abortion under all circumstances; and abortion should be safe in circumstances in which it is not against the law.

Abortion remains illegal in nearly all countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that more than four million clandestine abortions are practiced in Latin America every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that complications of unsafe abortion account for 21 per cent of maternal mortality in Latin America and for every 1 000 women of child bearing age (15-49) an estimated 30 unsafe abortions are performed in the region. In addition, around 2 200 women and teenage girls are hospitalised in the region daily due to complications from unsafe abortions.

At the end of the conference most of the 400 delegates burst into loud applause and embraced, while a minority, including US delegate Ellen Sauerbrey and the delegations from El Salvador and Nicaragua, which backed Washington's positions, remained stiffly silent.

Rocí­o Gálvez, president of the conservative Catholic organization Provida (Pro-life) was amongst the Pro-Life Groups who criticized the decisions made at the conference:"We see what happened in Mexico as very disturbing, because the pro-abortion and pro-lesbian groups imposed a stance against life and morality, which does not at all represent the view of this region."

US pressure against the legalization of abortion has been felt elsewhere in the region in the past few months. In April 2004, six lawmakers from Bush's governing Republican Party sent a letter to Uruguay's senators just before they voted on a reproductive health bill that would have legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The letter urged ministers to vote against the legalization of abortion:"We encourage you in this historic time in your [vote] against this pro-abortion bill and also to refuse to leave it up to a referendum."

The bill was defeated by just three votes.

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