Initially, I thought the topic was too painful and incendiary for us to reach any common ground. Since it cuts to the very essence of what it is to be human, there are no easy answers, and it’s a topic that is very easy to get wrong. But Audrey insisted that we needed to have some sort of a debate, and that an imperfect one was better than none at all.
I agreed, on one condition: that it come out as a double post, with Audrey’s opinion first, and mine second. Here it is. JC.)
First half, by Audrey M. Dacosta
As women, once we became sexually active, we walked around with a dangling sword over our heads at all times, the sword of the unwanted pregnancy. You could be that girl, you could become the statistic, you would have to abandon your dreams, college was probably out of the question, life as you knew it would end. There was that chance. But, there was also a “solution.”
Drinking hot malta was a top choice and named frequently by friends, it was said to be proven time and time again to bring back your menstruation.
Some swore by a strong cinnamon tisane.
Others named a horrid tasting and foul smelling plant, used for menstrual cramps, that could also double as an abortive agent.
And then, someone would say:
“There is a pill, a small pill, it wasn’t meant for that, but it can be used for that. I don’t know the name, but a cousin/sister/aunt/neighbor/friend-of-a-friend used it, and she’s fine.”
And you would breathe a little calmer, because, you knew that if you were ever in that position, there was a way out.
Since 1915, abortion has been illegal in Venezuela, with the only exception if the mother’s life is at risk from the pregnancy (no, you cannot even access a legal abortion if you are pregnant due to rape).
Even so, about 60,000 illegal abortions are estimated to be performed each year in our country. This number shouldn’t surprise us, considering that 50% of Venezuelan pregnancies are unintended. And unintended pregnancies are the root of abortions.
In 2006 an incredible 43,16% of the cases admitted in Maternidad Concepcion Palacios (the nation’s biggest maternity) were of women with ongoing voluntary abortion procedures. Twenty of those women died.
Nationwide, every week two women die during or from complications from this procedure. In 2009, it still was the third cause of death of pregnant mothers (Venezuela has the highest maternity death rate in all Latin America by the way).
Yet, no real discussion has been taken upon this subject that’s becoming a health dilemma. This blackout has given rise to black market and guerilla abortion “solutions”.
Since 2011, the Colectivo Faldas en Revolución (Skirts in Revolution) has been running the “Abortion Hotline“. They support “safe” abortions, focusing on poor women who they see as the most vulnerable in the abortion black market. You call and receive information about the drug Misoprostol (also known as Cytotec) and it’s use for interrupting unwanted pregnancies. The drug has reduced mortalities associated with abortions in places like Brasil (where abortion is also illegal).
Legally, Faldas en Revolución could be charged with Incitement. Women who seek abortions could face up to 2 years in jail.
Still, Línea Aborto gets about 20 calls a week. Now, this is the interesting and yet incredibly OBVIOUS “finding”, the main reason stated by women (and men) for wanting an abortion are economic hardship. 73.3% of the callers said they earned less than 1.600Bs a Month (year 2011). The next reason pointed by the callers, was that women felt that continuing the pregnancy would limit their academic and workforce development.
…financial circumstances have always been a major determinant of women’s choices regarding unintended pregnancy. Poor women are more likely to terminate pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts
It is also poor women who share an unequal burden of the unintended pregnancy. In the Gutmacher report for Unintended Pregnancy in the United States it was clear that:
the rate of unintended pregnancy among poor women (those with incomes at or below the federal poverty level) in 2008 was 137 per 1,000 women aged 15–44, more than five times the rate among women at the highest income level (26 per 1,000)
There’s a variety of reasons for this, but just of the top of my head, “better off” women have better family planning educations and have better access to birth control methods, they are also more empowered. Also, let’s not forget that women living in poverty are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence and sexual violence .
Now, you are right, this is data for the United States, yet, as I read the Abortionomics report I see the eery similarities. Things like:
If economic and political conditions increase women’s risk of unintended pregnancy, heighten their sense that abortion is the only reasonable response to unintended pregnancy, and decrease access to safe and legal abortion, women may be more likely to choose illegal abortion procedures. This would likely lead to an increase not only in abortion but in abortion-related deaths.
As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise”.
This is precisely the trend we are seeing in out country. As the economic climate worsens, the sexual violence against women worsens, illegal abortion will only rise and so will maternal deaths associated to it.
The cost of not talking about this is measured in dead women. Because when the hot malt, the herbal plants and the cinnamon infusions don’t work, the next step is a wire hanger and a back alley “doctor”.
Second half, by Juan Cristóbal Nagel
Still, he’s my nephew. He has a beating heart. He has his own DNA, different from his mother’s and his father’s. He has a gender, although we still don’t know what it is. He even has some functioning organs. For those of us who believe, he has a God-given soul.
But there is one thing he does not have: the right to life.
You see, Max is growing up in Spain, and in Spain, abortion on demand is legal in the first trimester. You, me, and anyone living or passing through Spain has something that most every human being has: the right to have their life protected by the state.
Everyone, that is, who has been born. Some people simply have fewer rights than others. Ironically, this is taken as a sign of “civilization.”
Of course, your position on this debate rests on whether or not you think this fetus is an actual human being with rights. That is why the abortion debate cuts to the bone – because it speaks to the very core of what it means to be human, which ultimately is the question. That is why it is such an emotional issue for all humans.
Now, I could continue making my point along the usual lines: about beating hearts brought to a stop, saline solutions, partial-birth abortions and the like. I could try and address Audrey’s statistics and points (legalizing abortions would only increase the number of abortions, by the way, because decriminalizing something always increases that thing’s frequency), but that would be trite.
Instead, I want to put aside the ethical dilemma and talk about why legalizing abortion would be terrible politics for Venezuela.
Legalizing abortion in Venezuela would tear apart the fragile coalition in the opposition. Personally, I could never vote for a candidate who pledged to legalize abortion, and I think many in Venezuela think the same way. I don’t care who he or she is running against – this is a dealbreaker for me and for many in the MUD. Say what you will about chavismo, but so far they have resisted calls for legalizing abortions. It would be a shame if our side became the pro-abortion side – because I would have to become a chavista, and so would this blog.
Second, pushing an abortion agenda now would be terrible timing. There are so many things wrong in Venezuela, and particularly in the realm of health care and violence, that picking a fight over abortion seems useless. In a country with zero private investment in health care, where more than half of the doctors have fled the country, and where medicines are scare, pushing an abortion agenda seems out of place. Legalized abortions would be just one more thing that doesn’t work well in Venezuela, one more thing there are no drugs for.
The abortion issue is also related to crime. Ours is a society consumed by violence. In order to turn the tide, we need to emphasize the idea that every life is worth protecting, that life is sacred and precious, and that whomever takes it commits an unspeakable offense.
An abortion agenda clashes with this head on. It is an inherent contradiction to propose ending prison violence, for example, while proposing at the same time the legalization of abortion. Legalized abortions are not part of a human rights agenda – quite the opposite.
Finally, there is one important aspect being overlooked: there is no legal adoption in Venezuela to speak of – none. We all know infertile couples in Venezuela, and the ordeal they face in order to adopt a baby is inhumane.
It simply can’t be done – what ends up happening is that they find themselves a mother willing to give up her baby, and they pay off the nurses (and the mother) so that they go into the clinic at the same time and the babies are switched. It is, esentially, a payoff, the purchase of a child. Kafka himself could not have designed this any more convoluted or inhumane. The lack of a legal, workable adoption framework in our country is a devastating reality for thousands of couples and many more orphans. It is a travesty, a shame on our society.
How about we work on getting that in order before we propose making it simple and legal to do away with “the problem”? How about a positive agenda for adoptions in our country before going into this other thing? Once women know that they have options, that society is willing to try to take care of them, they might think twice before going to the back alleys to get the problem taken care of. It is incoherent to talk about legalizing abortions when that should be the last resort – fix the system, and maybe abortion does not even come into consideration. Give women more options instead of passing laws telling them they can’t cope. That’s the real feminist agenda.
I sympathize with every woman faced with this choice. Of course, we need to find ways to make it easier for women facing complicated pregnancies. Yes, I am a man, and therefore my perspective on this issue is different from that of a woman. However, this is not a “woman” issue only, it is a “human” issue.
I probably have not swayed you with my arguments. Everyone has their own way of thinking about these things, and it’s difficult to change people’s minds.
But perhaps, if I have not persuaded you, you might be willing to listen to Gianna Jessen. As a baby, she survived a botched abortion and lived to tell the tale. It’s well worth your time.