Throughout Latin America, new church-state battles are heating up as pro-choice groups seek to implement more liberal abortion laws, reports Conscience (Fall), a liberal Catholic quarterly.
Legalized abortion is almost non-existent in Latin America (with the exception of Cuba) and most of the pro-choice activists speak of “decriminalizing” rather than legalizing the practice, though there is little difference between the two terms. Most of the proposed changes are for exceptions to abortion laws in case of rape, incest and genetic malformation (most provisions allow for abortions if the mothers’ life is in danger).
The most heated battles are between leftist governments and the Catholic Church. Brazil, under President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, and Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez, are proposing decriminalization measures and are facing stiff opposition from Catholic leaders [little is mentioned of the burgeoning evangelical groups in Latin America and their involvement in the prolife movement]. Most polls show that Latin Americans want abortion allowed in exceptional cases.
As in the U.S., Catholic bishops in countries from Colombia to Argentina and Nicaragua have threatened pro-choice judges and legislators with church discipline, writes Joanne Mariner. In Argentina when lawmakers were debating a law on abortion in the province of Santa Fe, all the representatives received a letter from the archbishop threatening them with excommunication. The Catholic hierarchy and affiliated groups have also targeted emergency contraception known as the “morning after pill,“ as health departments in Peru and Mexico began making the pill available to the wider public. In Central America and the Caribbean, the decriminalization movement has had little success, with El Salvador making its anti-abortion laws more restrictive in recent years.
(Conscience, 1436 U St. NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009-3997)