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The Politics of Abortion in Latin America

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Cora Fernandez Anderson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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In light of the recent case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of a toddler, who, while suffering from lupus and kidney failure and carrying an anencephalic fetus, was denied the right to an abortion, it is relevant to discuss the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America and some of the reasons behind them.

Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the Vatican City and Malta outside the region. Legal abortion upon request during the first trimester is only available in Cuba (as of 1965), Mexico City (as of 2007), and Uruguay (as of 2012). In the rest of the continent, abortion is criminalized in most circumstances, with few exceptions, the most common of which are when the life or health of the woman is at risk, rape, incest and/or fetus malformations. However, even in these cases the legal and practical hurdles a woman has to face to have an abortion are such that many times these exceptions are not available, or by the time they are authorized it is too late. The consequences of such criminalization are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe back alley abortions that affect poor and young women disproportionately.

The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While European women have already gotten rid of these laws many decades ago, Latin American women still have to deal with them. Why is this so?

As both scholars and activists know by now, women’s rights, like other human rights, are only respected if a movement organizes around them and puts pressure on the state to change unfair laws and policies. While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars. It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait. When democracy finally arrived in the region—in the 1980s in South American and the 1990s in Central America—feminist movements gradually began to push for reproductive rights. For example, the September 28th Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion was launched in 1990 in the context of the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting held in San Bernardo, Argentina. Since then, most countries in the region have seen mobilizations and protests around this date. However, by the time the movements began to focus on reproductive rights, the global context had changed and the conservative right had also set up a strong opposition to any change to the status quo.

The strongholds of the opposition to decriminalization lie in two places: first, the Catholic Church, and second, the ascendance of the religious right in the United States. The Catholic Church has historically been a strong political actor in Latin America, ever since its large role in the conquest and colonization of the continent by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church’s influence among both political and economic elites is still a reality in the whole region with only a variation of degree among the different countries. However, the church’s strong opposition to abortion has not been constant. While the church has always condemned abortion, it used to be considered a misdemeanor and not a murder of an innocent human life, as in the current discourse. In addition, it was not until the late 1800s that the church considered that life started at conception. Until 1869, a fetus was thought to receive its soul from 40 to 80 days after conception, abortion being a sin only after the ensoulment had taken place.

Even in the beginning of the 20th century, when many Latin American countries passed their current legislation that allowed legal abortion under certain circumstances, the Catholic Church did not pose a strong opposition to these reforms. As Mala Htun explains in her research on South American abortion laws, at the time abortion reforms were passed by a nucleus of male politicians, doctors, and jurists. In addition, these reforms legalized abortion only in very limited circumstances and required the authorization of a doctor and/or a judge, and therefore represented no real threat to the dominant discourse of abortion being morally wrong. The church only began organizing against abortion decriminalization when feminist movements came together to claim the autonomy of women’s bodies threatening this consensus.

When John Paul II became Pope in 1978, moral issues such as abortion were given a priority in the church’s mission as never before. Having lived through the Soviet conquest of his home country, Poland, and experienced the repression of Catholicism and the legalization of abortion there, the Pope felt very strongly about these issues. Once many of the European Catholic countries achieved the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and 80s, Latin America, being the largest Catholic region in the world, became the battleground in which abortion policy would be fought and decided.
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An Abortion by Any Other Name: Beatriz and the Global Anti-Choice Spin Machine

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of Beatriz here.

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Yesterday in El Salvador, Beatriz (a pseudonym) had an abortion. The Catholic Church and the international anti-choice movement are desperate to deny this reality, so the anti-choice spin machine is in high gear, engaging in linguistic gymnastics to suggest otherwise.

And much of the media is taking the bait.

Beatriz had a hysterotomy, a form of abortion carried out through c-section, and a procedure of such high risk compared to other forms of abortion, and of such last resort, according to medical experts, it is practically never performed in the United States. What is known beyond a doubt is that having forced Beatriz into a situation of having a late abortion, the government of El Salvador, Catholic Bishops, and anti-choice groups in the country (and those supporting them from the outside) unquestionably privileged a non-viable fetus over the life and long-term health of the primary patient, a woman who wanted to — in fact begged to — live.

In parroting what anti-choicers and the government of El Salvador are saying, many media outlets are glossing over and ignoring what actually happened in El Salvador. As a result, otherwise highly regarded media sources such as the New York Times, Salon, the Associated Press, The Guardian, and Reuters are helping to perpetuate lies that defy both medical evidence and public health data and that support dangerous policies under women all over the world continue to lose their lives.

The New York Times, for instance stated that the “ill Salvadoran woman … delivered her 27-week-old fetus” and quoted El Salvador’s Minister of Health, María Isabel Rodríguez as saying, “At this point, the interruption of the pregnancy is no longer an abortion. It is an induced birth.” Rodríguez elaborated that it could be “either an abdominal or vaginal birth.” Meanwhile, Reuters uncritically reported that the c-section permitted El Salvador to avoid having to allow Beatriz an abortion.

Actually, the only thing El Salvador — and apparently the media — avoids by denying that a hysterotomy is an abortion is reality.

Beatriz’s pregnancy was complicated from the start. As Anibal Faundes, an OB-GYN and international leader on public health and human rights, wrote for RH Reality Check last week:

Beatriz is a 22-year-old woman from a poor, rural area of El Salvador who has the misfortune of suffering systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), an autoimmune disease. Pregnancy often exacerbates lupus, with adverse effects on kidney function, potentially leading to accelerated progression to end-stage renal disease. In addition, pregnancies in women with lupus are at high risk for spontaneous abortion and premature delivery, intrauterine growth retardation, and a maternal complication called superimposed pre-eclampsia.

Beatriz’s doctors knew ten weeks into her pregnancy that she needed an abortion to save her life, and even in El Salvador, a country in which doctors go to jail for performing abortions, her physicians began petitioning the government for an exception to the law. Doctors also knew something else: Beatriz was carrying a fetus with no brain, and therefore it could not survive outside the womb under any circumstance. They also knew that the longer the delay in providing Beatriz with an abortion, the much higher the risks to Beatriz’s life and health.

While the Ministry of Health agreed the abortion was warranted (again, a profoundly unusual circumstance in El Salvador), the Catholic Bishops, anti-choice groups, and the attorney general would not budge, threatening to put both doctors and patient in jail. At one point, colleagues in El Salvador contended that the country’s bishops were quite willing to just let her die and put it down to “god’s will” so as to hold the hard line on their contention that “abortion is never necessary,” even to save a woman’s life.

The turning point came when an international campaign was launched, and every relevant court and human rights body was petitioned. Yet despite pressure from human rights bodies in the region and internationally, El Salvador’s Supreme Court refused to budge, and Beatriz was denied an uncomplicated early abortion and subsequently also a less complicated second trimester procedure. She was therefore pushed into the third trimester, with her health failing to “save” a fetus that could not be saved. Finally, in the face of mounting international opprobrium, she was given a hysterotomy, which anti-choicers are spinning as though it were a normal c-section.

Thankfully, Beatriz has survived the late abortion and is doing well, though according to colleagues in El Salvador, she lost substantial amounts of blood and as yet faces unknown health consequences from lack of an early abortion that complicated her lupus, compromised her kidneys, and racked up unnecessary medical bills. The key difference is that, at death’s door, Beatriz was an international cause célèbre. As a poor, rural woman who may now face lifelong health and medical complications gravely exacerbated by the delay in her treatment, she will almost certainly become a forgotten statistic, a woman who may need ongoing medical care she will almost certainly not be able to afford.

In what seems to be at best an afterthought of the media these days, I asked actual medical professionals about Beatriz’s condition. Dr. Faundes, as noted above, wrote about her condition extensively. But what about the decision to provide a “c-section”? Here is what doctors told me. In response to Beatriz’s case, Dr. Valencia Stephens, an OB-GYN and clinical consultant on safe abortion care, said that when she heard about the decision to give Beatriz a c-section, she was aghast. As she wrote via email:

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In El Salvador, a Country Awaits the Supreme Court Decision on Beatriz’s Life

9:39 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathy Bougher for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On Wednesday, May 15 the Supreme Court of El Salvador will hear testimony from Beatriz, the 22-year-old woman who has petitioned the court to allow her to have a life-saving abortion, a procedure prohibited under all circumstances in El Salvador and punishable by lengthy prison terms. She is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus; it is missing most of its brain and will not survive outside the womb. In addition, Beatriz, the mother of a toddler, suffers from lupus, hypertension, and renal insufficiency. Her doctors at the Maternity Hospital, where she has been for almost a month, advised her that an abortion was necessary to save her life.

“I want to live,” has been Beatriz’s consistent response to her doctors as well as to those who oppose her request.

The court has summoned Beatriz, her lawyers, and her doctors to testify, according to Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapeutico, Etico and Eugenico (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion) in a phone call with RH Reality Check. The state prosecutor and the Institute for Legal Medicine will also provide testimony. Both oppose her petition for an abortion. Sí a la Vida, a right-to-life group, requested permission to participate, but was denied. Herrera reports that her group learned recently that the director of the Institute for Legal Medicine is married to a member of the board of directors of Sí a la Vida. Although the Supreme Court has the demonstrated capacity to respond to petitions from Salvadoran citizens on other matters within as little as 24 hours, it has stalled for weeks in this matter. At this point it is unknown whether the court will issue a final decision on May 15.

Beatriz’s mother, Delmy, spoke Tuesday at a press conference organized by Herrera and the Citizen Group, saying, “It is now that my daughter needs support and help, not when her health gets even worse…. My daughter wants to live. I don’t want my daughter to die…. Her life is in your hands.” She has written a letter to the court that will be presented on Wednesday.

Beatriz’s petition has ignited controversy and debate on many fronts within El Salvador and around the world. Amnesty International, the United Nations, governments of several countries, and the Interamerican Human Rights Commission strongly support Beatriz. The Catholic Church and so-called right-to-life groups oppose her request.

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes spoke publicly on the issue for the first time on Monday when, as Herrera explained in her phone call to this writer, feminists confronted him as he inaugurated a new bridge in the town of Suchitoto with banners asking “Mauricio Funes, if Beatriz were your daughter, what would you do?” Funes, the first president from the leftist FMLN party, finally said, “Beatriz has the right to make decisions about her life.” On behalf of the government, he entrusted the case to Dr. María Isabel Rodriguez, minister of health, who has supported Beatriz’s position from the beginning.

At the end of last week the minister reiterated her position that a therapeutic abortion was the “viable, just solution, without a doubt.” The Institute of Legal Medicine conducted its own studies and declared that Beatriz was not in imminent danger and could continue her pregnancy. The Minister called those comments, “uneducated and vulgar.”

Rodriguez reiterated that Beatriz’s life is in danger. She also discredited the report from the Institute for Legal Medicine that was presented to the court: “It is not true that she is not in danger. The lupus that this young woman has is not curable and can’t be changed overnight. We know this disease is systemic, which means that it attacks all the organs, and we can’t know at what moment we’re going to have complications with her.”

As Herrera explained, in a country where until recently even abortion rights supporters were cautious about using the word abortion out loud, student groups at the University of El Salvador have petitioned the school administration to suspend classes tomorrow so that they can attend the massive demonstration planned in support of Beatriz outside the Supreme Court building. Youth groups have participated in the frequent rallies supporting Beatriz.

The Citizen Group and other feminist organizations have maintained a constant presence with rallies, press conferences, and news releases. On Sunday they demonstrated in front of the cathedral with a banner that read “Letting Beatriz Die Offends God.” Sí a la Vida has also been active in Catholic churches, voicing its opposition to Beatriz’s petition and claiming that feminists are using Beatriz to further their agenda. At the same time, Funes states that the government is taking care not to exploit the case for political ends.

Radio de Todas, a feminist radio station in El Salvador, will broadcast the proceedings on Wednesday morning online in Spanish beginning at 8:30 a.m. Central Standard Time.

In El Salvador, Yet Another Woman’s Life Subordinated to Non-Viable Fetus

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathy Bougher for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Women in El Salvador sort coffee beans.

The women of El Salvador are denied life-saving access to abortion.

Beatriz wants to live. A 22-year-old Salvadoran from a poor, rural community, Beatriz (a pseudonym to protect privacy) suffers from chronic and severe medical conditions. She is the mother of an infant. And she is roughly 18 weeks pregnant with an anencephalic fetus, a fetus without a brain. Doctors at the Maternity Hospital determined that the pregnancy is life-threatening, and Beatriz requested that Salvadoran medical personnel perform an abortion, but a 1998 law in El Salvador prohibits all abortions, without exception.

The Salvadoran feminist organization Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugénesico (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic, Ethical and Eugenic Abortion), which has been working to decriminalize abortion in the country since 2009, petitioned the Salvadoran Supreme Court on April 15 to intervene and to direct medical personnel to provide without fear of criminal prosecution the procedures Beatriz needs to save her life. Under current law, both Beatriz and any medical personnel involved in an abortion would face criminal charges and prison time. The court responded with a temporary directive that medical personnel provide the care necessary to guarantee her life and health while they make a decision regarding the petition for an abortion. Medical personnel were also directed to present to the court within five days a report on the condition of the mother and the fetus to inform their deliberations.

Within the past few days Amnesty International has initiated a petition asking for life-saving medical care, including an abortion; the United Nations has spoken; and the Salvadoran Minister of Health, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, has requested that the Supreme Court approve the request. Dr. Rodriguez emphasized that Beatriz’s kidney function continues to deteriorate as the pregnancy advances, and that the public health system is ready to perform an abortion. The Salvadoran Attorney General for Human Rights also supports the request.

At a press conference the Agrupación convened in San Salvador on April 18, Esther Major, an Amnesty International representative in El Salvador, characterized the way Beatriz is being treated as “nothing less than cruel and inhuman.”

“While we are talking, while the Court is thinking and the government is delaying, Beatriz is suffering. … The Salvadoran government has clear obligations, international as well as domestic, to protect Beatriz’s life, and to assure that Beatriz can access vital treatment as soon as possible.”

Legal reforms in 1998 in El Salvador, promulgated by conservative religious forces, outlawed  abortion without exception. Previously it was permitted if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, the mother’s life was in danger, or the fetus was not viable. In addition, a constitutional amendment was added declaring that life begins at conception, which means that prosecutors can charge women who seek abortions with aggravated homicide, punishable by 30 to 50 years in prison, rather than the lesser crime of abortion, which carries a term of two to eight years.

Threats of prosecution and prison terms are not to be taken lightly under the 1998 law. The Agrupación has mounted legal and educational campaigns to secure the release of six women from prison. Since no comprehensive data exist in the country, the Agrupación is conducting its own research, which reveals that currently at least 24 women are serving prison terms of up to 40 years for abortion or aggravated homicide related to abortion charges.

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The Struggle for Abortion Rights in Ecuador

11:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Heather Sayette for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

President Rafael Correa

Progressive Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa wants to ease strict anti-abortion laws.

Rafael Correa, the popular and newly re-elected leftist president of Ecuador is driving a “citizens’ revolution” committed to progressive principles and economic growth. This week he voiced unconditional support for contraception, including emergency contraception. This unprecedented support for access to sexual and reproductive health care is particularly welcome, as women’s rights advocates were beginning to wonder what the president’s revolution would mean for them.

On paper, the most recent revision to Ecuador’s constitution included unprecedented guarantees of gender equality in education, health care, property rights, equal rights in the workplace, protections for female senior citizens, priority services for pregnant women, remuneration for homemakers, and explicit reproductive freedoms such as the right to decide when and how many children to bear.

Despite these recent advances and increases in social services spending, widespread disparities and inequalities in access to health care remain, and access to safe or legal abortion services is nonexistent.

Rates of adolescent pregnancy have skyrocketed in recent years — Ecuador has the highest rate in the Andean region — and poor, rural, and indigenous young women are the most likely to become pregnant before becoming adults.  Seventeen percent of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are already moms, many because of sexual abuse. Complicating the issue even further, Ecuador’s current criminal code only allows abortion for victims of rape who are mentally disabled, significantly excluding millions of women in a country where one in four women has been the victim of sexual violence.

Despite significant advocacy by women all over Ecuador, a wealth of evidence illustrating the benefits of decriminalization, and a worldwide trend towards liberalizing abortion laws, the government of Ecuador has not responded with a commonsense policy.

In response, a coalition of indigenous women’s, women’s, and LGBTI rights groups have joined forces to call international attention to their plight. The coalition recently submitted an alternative report on the state of the sexual and reproductive rights in Ecuador to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

The committee clearly paid attention to this input. It recommended that Ecuador amend its laws by allowing all women to access abortion services when pregnancy is a result of rape, and by introducing legislation and best practices that safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights. The committee also recommended that Ecuador improve access to contraceptives, including emergency contraception.

These recommendations follow a global trend of activists resorting to international mechanisms when governments fail to respect human rights and to implement the international human rights agreements that they have ratified. Other international court rulings and committee recommendations have called out governments for failing to expand abortion allowances and failing to guarantee access to legal procedures. Most recently, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture called on states to eliminate bureaucracy in women’s health care, specifically to ensure that abortion and post-abortion care services are available without adverse consequences to women or health professionals. A previous report authored by the United Nations special rapporteur for the right to health went a step further to establish that laws criminalizing abortion violate the right to health and should be eliminated.

These unprecedented reports and support from international human rights bodies are important, but effective activism requires a diverse toolbox. We in the reproductive rights movement must continue to keep up the pressure in international forums. But we cannot over-rely on these mechanisms as a panacea to unresponsive policymakers. This work must be coupled with sustained domestic pressure on governments. Ecuadoran women’s rights activists, those of us in the international sexual and reproductive health and rights movement, our allies in the government, funders, and others must organize, mobilize, and collaborate.

While the Ecuadoran government has made dramatic increases in health-care spending, large-scale improvements to eliminate health disparities and unequal access to services are still needed — and the restrictive abortion law has got to go.

The United Nations committee recommendations to the Ecuadoran government are an important step forward for champions of women’s health and rights. Both globally and within Ecuador, we must keep up the fight and make it unacceptable for this or any government to continue to ignore the rights of women.

After winning the recent election with an unprecedented 58 percent of the vote, Correa openly stated that he is done making changes and will do nothing new, particularly regarding access to safe and legal abortion. But new is exactly what poor and indigenous women and young people need.

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The Deeply Troubled Past and Present of Inter-country Adoptions from Nations in Conflict and Chaos

12:04 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Karen Smith Rotabi for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On July 5, 2012 Argentinean General Jorge Rafael Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in crimes against humanity during the “Dirty War,” (1976-1984) including illegal child adoptions. The seven year conflict resulted in the deaths of at least 30,000 people. The grotesque history includes the forcible disappearance of pregnant women who were believed to be political dissidents. Upon giving birth, the mothers were executed and their babies were adopted by families connected to military and government leadership. Many children unknowingly grew up in military families only to later learn the horrifying truth. These children have been called the “living disappeared” and, in time and with the technology of DNA tests, some of these young adults have been reunited with their extended families.

Abuelas of the Plaza Mayo is an activist group of grandmothers (abuelas) who have protested in the Plaza Mayo of Buenos Aires for many years. They have persisted in seeking justice and truth in the names of their children who were executed and their infant grandchildren who disappeared during the conflict. The Abuelas cause is known worldwide for effective and persistent human rights activism; some of the grandmothers are now in their 80s and 90s and they continue to press on for truth and family reunion. Slowly but surely, the grandmothers have not only linked families lost from each other, but they have also advocated for the legal prosecution of war criminals implicated in these crimes. To date, General Rafael Videla is the highest ranking official to finally be sentenced appropriately for role in the atrocities. In fact, symbolically this is a huge win as Rafael Videla was the defacto president of the nation from 1976-1981.

This conviction occurs after a number of legal victories in recent years. In 2008 there was another high profile case in which an adoptee charged her adoptive parents with kidnapping. Maria Eugenia Sampallo’s case against her ‘adoptive parents’ gained international press attention when her ‘parents’ were sentenced to seven-eight years for the illegal adoption. The military officer involved in the case received a ten-year sentence.  To this day, other cases continue to garner attention in the media.

Truth and reconciliation is a complicated matter after mass disappearances. Sadly, El Salvador shares a similar history and the reunification of adopted children with their biological families is ongoing today through the work of Pro-Busqueda, a small non-governmental organization dedicated to search-and-find of the living disappeared children. Some of these children were adopted by families in other countries such as the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. Pro-Busqueda has reunited hundreds of adoptees with their families in El Salvador. Other countries, such as Guatemala, also have a similar history of seeking the truth for children adopted during the war years.

While there have been celebrations for family reunion, too many families still do not know what became of the living disappeared. However, in Argentina there is cause for a sign of relief as the General spends the rest of his life incarcerated for these crimes.  Now, the question is whether lessons from the past will inform the future of adoption practices in the context of chaos and conflict.

I worry about the Congo where inter-country adoption programs are now beginning to blossom. The bloody conflict in this nation (as well as other conflicts and chaos in Africa) require that adoptions must be processed with the greatest of care. I caution any individual or couple looking to adopt from a conflict or post-conflict nation. The unique dynamics of child sales in Africa are quite complicated — including current problems in Ethiopia. Beware of the history of atrocities and don’t become complicit because the “blinders” are quite profound once you enter the adoption process and become committed to a child. It is quite a difficult scenario.

Other families caught in the middle of adoption fraud have found themselves implicated in unthinkable crimes when they thought they were involved in rescuing a child. This is true for some families who adopted from Cambodia. The problems were so bad there that arrests and convictions of some adoption agency personnel took place in the United States. Prosecutions are a rare occurrence, and this case, entitled “Operation Broken Hearts,” illustrates the risks involved in inter-country adoption from conflict nations.

As recently as 2008, a child left post-conflict Guatemala as an ‘adoptee’ and in 2011 a Guatemalan court has ruled for the return of the child as a victim of abduction for adoption. That case remains in limbo as the U.S. adoptive family refuses to comply with a foreign court order. And, a Guatemalan family desperately awaits the return of their daughter. It is all very sad. Ultimately one can only imagine the pain that this young girl will experience as she becomes of age and learns of her own history of abduction, adoption, and the need for a personal search for the truth. For more about child abduction in Guatemala, see

Argentina’s Supreme Court Permits Abortion in All Cases of Rape, But Access To Care Remains a Challenge

8:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Alia Al-Khatib for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On March 13, 2012, the Supreme Court in Argentina issued a decision in the case F., A. L. s/Medida autosatisfactiva, which clarified a woman’s right to obtain an abortion in all cases of rape.  This is particularly significant in a country where, according to an official estimate from the Health Ministry in Argentina, between 486,000 and 522,000 illegal abortions are performed annually. While this is an enormous achievement towards women’s access to safe and legal abortion in Argentina, ensuring that rape survivors are able to access abortion in practice represents an even greater challenge.

The decision emerged from a March 2010 case in the province of Chubut involving a 15-year-old girl, A. G., who was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant. With the support of her mother, A. G. sought an abortion by first requesting approval from the Criminal Court judge in the province. Due to an unclear understanding of the Penal Code in the lower courts of the province, she had to obtain authorization ultimately from the Superior Justice Court in Chubut, a process that lasted two months. A. G. was able to obtain an abortion, though only after a long period of delay and a great deal of unnecessary stress. Even when the pregnancy had already been terminated, the case proceeded to the Federal Supreme Court in order to seek clarification concerning the permissibility of abortion in certain circumstances.

According to Article 86 of the Argentine Penal Code, abortion is not punishable on two grounds: first, if the health or life of the mother is at risk and abortion is the only way to relieve this risk; second, if the pregnancy results from a rape or if the woman is mentally incapable of providing consent.  In this case, the Supreme Court considered the second clause. The Court determined that, in all cases of rape and not only in situations in which the woman is mentally incapable, a woman has not provided consent. For this reason, the Court provided an interpretation of the Penal Code that decriminalizes abortion in all cases of rape and that allows a rape survivor to obtain an abortion without the need for judicial proceedings. Furthermore, the Court made it clear that it is illegal to obstruct a rape survivor from exercising her right to abortion.

The Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with developments in international human rights law and standards. In one such case from July 2006, L. M. R. v. Argentina, L. M. R., a young woman with a mental age of between eight and ten years, became pregnant after being raped by her uncle. Though Article 86 of the Penal Code clearly permits abortion in this scenario, the public hospital initiated judicial proceedings to determine whether or not L. M. R. could terminate the pregnancy because staff members at the hospital disagreed as to whether she had grounds to do so. A juvenile court judge denied the abortion.

Following a series of appeals, the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires determined that L. M. R. could terminate the pregnancy based on the second clause of Article 86 of the Penal Code. Even after the Supreme Court of Buenos Aires issued this decision, the local hospital refused to perform the abortion and defended their position by claiming that the pregnancy was too advanced, though at the time L. M. R. was just under 20 weeks. With the help of local advocates, she ultimately obtained an illegal abortion in a private clinic. In March 2011, the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights determined that denying L. M. R. an abortion violated her right to equality and non-discrimination embodied in the Covenant and that forcing her to continue with the pregnancy constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The cases of L. M. R. and F., A. L. illustrate that, although the law provides for the right to abort in certain circumstances, women face many obstacles from anti-abortion legislators and judges, and even health providers who are meant to provide these services. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of F., A. L., the governor of Salta, a province in northern Argentina, announced that he would not comply with the Supreme Court’s decision. Similarly, the Health Minister in Santa Rosa, the capital of La Pampa province, stated that public hospitals would not abide by the decision. Though not surprising, the refusal of these provincial leaders to comply with the federal case is futile and only serves to delay the implementation of protocol for non-punishable abortion in rape cases. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Santa Fe denounced the decision in an interview with a national newspaper, La Nación, and stated that there never exists a justification for abortion, a statement that carries a great deal of weight in a country, like others in Latin America, that remains heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.

Such reactions to this particular case remind pro-choice advocates that this decision is only the first step in ensuring that rape survivors can access abortion and that there is even more work ahead for women to gain access to safe, voluntary, and legal abortion in Argentina. Moving forward, local advocates plan to urge provinces to implement protocols in hospitals so that the law is clear to health providers and to women seeking abortions.

Child Abduction for Adoption and the Tangled Web of Deceit in Guatemala: A Review of Erin Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda”

1:02 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Karen Smith Rotabi for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.


Because much of my research has focused on reforming intercountry adoption and most especially Guatemala, I opened Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda” cautiously. She began the story by capturing the meager life of a determined mother, Mildred Alvarado, and her children living on poverty’s bitter edge.

By the end of this captivating read, it is impossible to see Alvarado as anything but a strong and resilient woman who is determined to fight circumstances of poverty and oppression–its impact on human dignity and the destruction of her family.

This main thread of the story makes Alvarado not only an interesting woman, but the underdog that everyone must hope for the ‘right thing’ to happen in the end.

However, when Alvarado and many other women’s stories of child abduction for adoption went ‘public’ it seemed everyone in the intercountry adoption community was routing against ‘the truth.’ It was unthinkable that some [1] of the beautiful children who had been adopted from Guatemala came to their adoptive families from sinister pathways. ‘Orphan’ adoption is viewed by most as an honorable act and to suggest that children are not truly orphans (and may be trafficking victims) is more than impolite to most people. Unfortunately the historical context and story of Guatemala is far too complicated for such fantasized notions about ‘orphans’ to always be true and when interrogates the facts, a grotesque reality unfolds.

Siegal pulls together many of the facts in her book, often allowing them to speak for themselves. The villain, an executive director of a notoriously bad adoption agency in Florida, gives the reader some insight into the inner workings of a ‘Christian’ woman who uses faith to manipulate her clients as needed. Then, there is the more subtle manipulation of the US Government, ranging from the US Department of State to the many Senators and Congressmen who demand that their constituent’s adoptions be completed—regardless of fears of fraud, coercion, and abduction of children for adoption.


(photo: ee382, photobucket)

Siegal rightly identifies that one should follow the money! [2] I am left wondering how an executive director of an adoption agency can make in the range of $250,000 annually with six figure bonuses for her husband (with little documentation for ‘why’ such a payment is legitimate). How can the IRS allow such ridiculous money management of a ‘non-profit’ agency? Further, some suspect that this agency director’s home and vehicle are paid for by the organization. While these allegations are not substantiated, the suspicion is telling. Read the rest of this entry →