January 6, 2021 1:51 am
In December 2020, a 12-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted gave birth to twins after being denied the right to an abortion in Argentina. Even though federal law granted exceptions in the case of rape, authorities were accused of deliberately delaying action on the child’s pregnancy until she was too far along for the procedure to be admistered.
Tragically, this is the reality when abortion is not legal. Each year, in Argentina, approximately 38,000 women are hospitalized because of dangerous, clandestine terminations. More than 3,000 women have died as a result since 1983. These inhumane circumstances led to mass movements for reproductive rights and the eventual legalization of abortion.
Just weeks after the twins’ birth, Argentina’s Safe Abortion law passed in the Senate with 38 votes in favor and 29 against, with one abstention. The bill permits free and safe abortions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, an enormous gain for a population that previously subjected to criminal charges. While there had been exceptions in the case of rape and the endangerment of the mother’s life, implementation of the exception had been dangerously inefficient.
The bill also calls for a “thousand days of responsibility,” during which the government is responsible for providing support to poor women who decide to carry a pregnancy to full term but do not have enough money to support the child.
This progressive legislation makes Argentina the largest country to legalize abortion in Latin America, sending ripples throughout the continent. Movements in Colombia, Chile, and Mexico are expected to see growing movements for access to abortions historically demonstrated by Argentina’s influence across the continent. Argentina has been a leader in the adoption of feminist reforms.
In 1991, Argentina was the first in the region to pass a law to have women in parliament, guaranteeing that women would fill at least one-third of the positions in congress. Soon after, the surrounding countries implemented similar initiatives. In 2010, Argentina was the first to approve same-sex marriage, followed by Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay. In 2012, they became the first to approve a law that allowed people to change their official gender identity without medical intervention. It is hoped that the legalization of abortion will provide inspiration and energy to their neighbors to organize successful campaigns in their own countries.
This victory comes from grassroots organizers’ political power, largely working-class women and people who have dedicated the last few years of their life to marches, campaigns, online agitation and mass discussions surrounding the pro-choice movement. Thousands of people gathered the night of the decision in a green wave that came to represent the reproductive justice movement. There were tears of joy by activists who watched as their work came to fruition and tears of sadness for all those who suffered and lost their lives in the decades prior.
Though the bill was vehemently opposed by the Catholic Church, Evangelical churches, and the Pope, working-class Argentinian women’s efforts outweighed those of powerful religious institutions. While a legalization bill failed in 2018, the mobilization of women since then has influenced the president and the state to implement this reform. The Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Fewer) movement, which originated in 2015 to protest violence against women, made abortion rights one of its primary goals. This widely popular movement helped to sway public opinion not only about abortion but gave much-needed visibility to the many horrific manifestations of misogyny present in Argentina. Its feminist message eventually spread across the region, a testament to the power of marginalized people speaking out and organizing amongst each other.
Access to abortion is not a struggle over ethics, morality or religion. It is a struggle for public health. Without access to this medical procedure, women will continue to either die from the performance of unsafe abortions or experience the physical and emotional trauma of a birth that they were forced to have. The ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is a vital component for the liberation of women and strides to make abortion free and readily available everywhere is a necessity. Any reactionary legislation that attempts to determine the conditions under which we give birth and raise children is designed to strip us of our ability to make decisions about the most intimate parts of our lives and should be fought against as part of a larger struggle against the oppression of the working class. Through this struggle, Argentinian women have paved the way for a safer future for all.
The Hyde Amendment, an infamous and far-reaching restriction on access to abortion, has prevented Medicaid recipients and working-class people from accessing abortion services for the last four decades. However, in a somewhat unprecedented move, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently held a public, virtual hearing on the disproportionate impacts the Hyde Amendment has had on working-class women and women of color. While it is yet unclear what next steps, if any, will be taken to dismantle the piece of legislation, the hearing (led by the Appropriations Committee’s incoming chairperson, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut) highlighted the unjust consequences of the amendment.
The virtual hearing, which took place on December 8, provided a forum for organizations such as All* Above All as well as healthcare professionals from across the country to underscore the need for a full dismantlement of the Hyde Amendment. In a statement to the House Appropriations Committee, Dr. Herminia Palacio of the Guttmacher Institute wrote, “The Hyde Amendment intentionally leaves millions of people who are already struggling financially without abortion coverage. As of 2018, more than 7 million women aged 15–44 enrolled in Medicaid lived in the 34 states and the District of Columbia where abortion coverage was not available because of the Hyde Amendment.”
The Hyde Amendment, passed first in 1977, restricts the use of federal funds for abortion coverage, meaning that those who receive Medicaid and those who are employed by the federal government and receive health insurance through their employment are unable to receive coverage for abortion services. As Dr. Jamila Perritt (president of Physicians for Reproductive Health) points out, “The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy that blocks those relying on federally funded health programs from getting coverage for abortion care. This includes people receiving their insurance coverage via Medicaid, the military, the Indian Health Service, people receiving care in federal prisons and detention centers, D.C. residents, federal employees, and Peace Corps volunteers.” In spite of the devastating impacts of the amendment on the most marginalized communities across the country, the House Appropriations Committee has renewed the Hyde Amendment annually since its initial passage.
For more than 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has been added and re-added to Congressional spending bills without significant internal opposition. Even President-Elect Joe Biden remained a staunch supporter of the Hyde Amendment until a sudden pivot on the campaign trail in 2020. The recent hearings held by the House Appropriations Committee signal a welcome shift among legislators. Despite increasing reactionary attacks on abortion rights over the past decade, activists have continued to defend the right to abortion, and access to abortion. With powerful conservative lobbying efforts and a reactionary Supreme Court bench threatening to diminish progressive gains, it is all the more important that revolutionaries and feminists continue to demand expanded access to abortion services and full reproductive justice for all.
Hannah Dickinson, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation notes, “The Hyde Amendment is a direct attack on reproductive care for low income women. An estimated 42 percent of abortion recipients live below the poverty line and since the passage of the Hyde amendment, over one million low-income women have been forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Rich women have always had access to abortion. The struggle for reproductive justice is a working class struggle. It is clear that we cannot rely on politicians—Republicans or Democrats—nor can we rely on the courts to uphold our fundamental rights. It is only with organized, militant pressure from below that we can ensure all women are able to access their legal right to an abortion.”
Because any repeal of the Hyde Amendment must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it is likely that efforts on the part of the House Appropriations Committee to end the restrictive legislation will be met with opposition. Politicians who stand in the way of abortion access represent hypocrisy embedded in the abandonment of the working class. The Hyde Amendment does not prevent abortions from taking place, nor does it provide any barrier for wealthier women from accessing abortion services. Its only purpose is to further repress women of color and the working class.
In spite of the daunting tasks ahead, the need for expanded abortion access is more critical than ever. Pregnancy and childcare represent an enormous financial hardship for working class families. Indeed, one in four women with unwanted pregnancies are forced to carry these pregnancies to term because their health insurance (or lack thereof) prohibits access to abortion coverage.
Free and unrestricted access to abortion and birth control are necessary prerequisites to women’s full participation in society. In addition, women need access to the full spectrum of health care as well as jobs, childcare, housing and education to be able to truly choose whether or not to have a family.
Women are the fastest-growing population in US prisons. The fabric of oppression women face within the many sectors of what is known as mass incarceration from policing to the courts to conditions in prisons themselves and then parole is directly tied to the functioning of the capitalist system itself. Women’s oppression is stripped down to its most brutal character within the prison industrial complex. This issue of Breaking the Chains will explore the systemic and systematic trauma imposed on women and girls by the system of mass incarceration—and the racist, sexist treatment of working women that directs them towards the prisons. The issue will expose the capitalist system for what it is, inhumane and unnecessary.
This issue includes:
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