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Protests for reproductive rights in Latin America have been inundated with tens of thousands of bright green handkerchiefs in recent years.
They represent the Green Wave, a mass rights-expansion movement in the region that is already proving effective. In the last two years, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia have decriminalized or fully legalized abortion. Other neighboring countries like Chile could be next.
Now that federal abortion protections are gone in the US, pro-reproductive rights advocates in the states may look to their counterparts in Latin America for inspiration and strategy.
Maria Antonieta Alcalde is Director of IPAs in Central America and Mexico, an organization working to ensure safe and legal access to abortion worldwide. She has joined Everything considered Sharing perspectives from their own work and providing a glimpse of what the movement in the US could do next.
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
About what is currently working in the Latin American reproductive rights movement
One of the things that was crucial to moving abortion rights forward in Latin America was the Green Wave. The Green Wave is this movement that is very down to earth. It’s a movement in which many young people participate. And I think what had to happen in Latin America because of the legal restrictions is that as a movement we had to explore all avenues to reach and promote access to safe abortion, also within the legal restrictions but also to mobilize. So we mobilized through big organizations, national and regional organizations.
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The green movement is a very inclusive movement because you don’t have to be a member of a political party, you don’t have to be a member of any particular organization, you don’t have to donate. All you have to do is be out there, wearing your green scarf, and helping women gain access to information about safe and legal abortion.
On whether greater access to abortion has led to more abortions
In the case of Mexico and most of Latin America, things are different than in the US because we have a public health system. In Mexico City, women have free access to abortions because the government has a duty to provide health care to everyone.
What we’ve learned is that decriminalizing abortion has actually reduced women’s need for access, because if you legalize abortion, you can provide comprehensive services to women.
So when you come to a public health clinic in Mexico, women not only get a very good abortion service, but also, for example, advice in the event of a violent situation. So they can access other services to escape from these situations. You will also be offered free contraceptives. Most women who come to a clinic for an abortion leave the clinic not only with the abortion, but also with contraceptives. It is usually a long-term contraceptive such as an implant.
If their partners come along, they even offer vasectomies for their partners. So if you are able to offer legal abortion in the public health system, you are addressing the needs of those most at risk. These are the ones who go to the public health system and you can provide comprehensive services that will prevent them from coming back with an unwanted pregnancy another time or two.
Why the abortion rights movement in the US failed
This is a very good time to reconsider ourselves, because I too feel part of the movement in America
I think maybe the first part is that the US movement is very isolated. If you think about the abortion movement or the sexual and reproductive rights movement in the world, we are very much in agreement. The green wave is an expression that is not the Argentine or the Colombian or the Chilean movement, we are all together. And we learn from each other.
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Perhaps the other element is that this is a movement that draws part of its strength from large organizations. I’m talking about Planned Parenthood or even the Center for Reproductive Rights. [Because then] It’s not about access to abortion, it’s about Planned Parenthood. If someone disagrees even a little bit with you as an organization, there isn’t much room to go to another room or to be part of the movement.
I think that has hampered the organization because there are other avenues, other expressions of the movement, including Latina movement expressions, including African American movement expressions, that have not been strong within that morality of large organizations.
And maybe the third is that the model is very clinical in the US. They access an abortion service in a clinic with all that is needed in terms of infrastructure, medical equipment and staff, while in other places in the world the self-administered abortion route to access and abortion is stronger. More and more women are performing their own abortions and you don’t need a clinic for that.
Whether she has hope for the abortion rights movement in the United States
I think these are fundamental moments or moments of re-establishment for the USA
I think this is the time for the movement to analyze itself. When I am critical of the US movement, I do so with great appreciation for the work that the movement has done.
But even if the movement doesn’t seize this moment, perhaps the most hurtful moment in its history, and reconsider ourselves as a movement, it will be a waste of opportunities.
So I think this is a moment to be really critical, not with the idea of pointing fingers, but with the idea of strengthening the movement. And here, too, I think that the work that we have done in Latin America and in other countries could be very useful.