Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. Cora Fernández Anderson from Mount Holyoke College discussed abortion rights in Latin America.

November 9, 2021

Lecturer Discusses Role of Social Movements in Fight for Reproductive Rights in Latin America

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Feminist organizing and street demonstrations are central to the fight for reproductive rights in Latin America, said Prof. Cora Fernández Anderson, politics, Mount Holyoke College, during a guest lecture Monday. 

“[The movement] has invaded the whole society,” Anderson said. 

Anderson visited over Zoom as part of the Latin American and Caribbean studies’ weekly seminar series to share the contents of her book, Fighting for Abortion Rights in Latin America: Social Movements, State Allies and Institutions. According to Anderson, her work is especially relevant in following the legalization of abortion in Argentina in 2020.

A professor of comparative politics, Anderson chose three case studies in the book — Chile, Uruguay and Argentina — and analyzed the roles of popular campaigns, political parties, the Catholic Church and other factors in the path to abortion legalization. 

Some countries in Latin America completely ban abortion, while others — including Uruguay, Cuba, parts of Mexico and now Argentina — offer free abortions within the first trimester of pregnancy. 

The “green tide,” an abortion rights movement characterized by supporters carrying green bandanas, started in Argentina and subsequently spread through Latin America. By 2018, discussions of abortion became unavoidable, according to Anderson.

“Abortion has become an unavoidable topic of conversation in every single household, in every single TV show,” Anderson said. “You see teenagers carrying their green bandanas in their backpacks to school.”

In 2019, Argentina elected President Alberto Fernández, who openly supported abortion. But Anderson says he shouldn’t get all the credit for the 2020 legalization, because the green tide came first. 

“[His support is] not because of his particular individual preferences,” Anderson said. “It’s because he read the political and societal context quite well, seeing that abortion … can actually gain you the constituents of this growing feminist movement that has taken millions to the streets.”

The United States is facing its own battle against abortion restrictions. Effective since Sept. 1, Texas’s Senate Bill 8 bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to sue abortion providers. In Mississippi, a law attempts to ban pregnancy after 15 weeks. 

Abortion supporters fear similar laws could overturn the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which protects abortion under the right to privacy. The Texas law sparked protests across the country on Oct. 2, including a rally for reproductive rights by Cornell students and supporters of the local Planned Parenthood hosted on Ho Plaza. 

Anderson said she believes her research shows the importance of activism in pushing for reproductive rights.

“This research speaks to the centrality of social movements in advancing abortion rights in the region,” Anderson said. “If there’s no movement that really pushes for this issue, it’s very unlikely that any party or anybody else will pick up on this and introduce a bill and try to advance reproductive rights.” 

On Nov. 15, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies’ weekly seminar series will host 

“Two Missionaries’ Orthographies in Conflict in Curaçao: Papiamentu’s 19th Century Case” with guest Prof. ​​Gabriel Antunes de Araujo, linguistics, the University of Macau.