Argentina, Brazil, Mexico show progress and fragility of sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America

Editor’s note: In this installment we present three country notes-Mexico, Argentina and Brazil-on advances and setbacks in access to safe and legal abortion in our continent. The different overviews remind us that while there are moments to celebrate as victories, these gains are not without setbacks, new obstacles or co-optation. The struggle for sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America is constant. That is why our movements are long term. 

The struggle for reproductive rights in Argentina

By Gabriel Leão

When Argentina’s right-wing candidate Javier Milei won the 2023 presidential election, red flags immediately went up among human rights movements. Milei has been compared to Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, spouting anti-abortion rhetoric and openly confronting the reproductive rights agenda in the midst of a deep economic and political crisis.

Abortion was legalized in Argentina in 2020, making it then the third South American state to allow elective abortions in the first 14 weeks of gestation. That conquest, much celebrated by women throughout the hemisphere, has been called into question by the opposition to Milei. In his campaign, the now president announced that he would open a national referendum to repeal it.  

“The crisis shows that rights are always in danger,” Argentine journalist Marina Abiuso told Mira. Abiuso was an early member of the grassroots movement Ni Una Menos (“Not one [woman] less”), which began protesting femicides back in 2015 and evolved to spearhead women’s rights. Ni Una Menos, played a key role in the pro-abortion movement “Marea Verde” (known for the use of green headscarves) that brought together other sectors of activists and society in favor of the right to choose motherhood.

“The movement for the legalization of abortion predates Ni Una Menos, but undoubtedly gave a strong impetus to open the agenda. In fact, all the speakers wore green handkerchiefs on June 3, 2015. The thing is that then the symbol was not very well known. The speech was about violence, but also about abortion, since we talked about the right to decide and the right to say ‘no’,” denotes Abiuso. 

“It is important to make it clear that it is about the right to decide and to support those who decide to give birth,” Abiuso explains about the role and achievements of Argentine feminist movements, including Ni Una Menos.

In 2018, abortion rights have become a major public issue on the political agenda thanks to Argentina’s strong feminist movements. “Activists, particularly Marea Verde, managed to bring the issue into everyday conversations in homes, universities, the streets and the media,” says Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina, in an interview with Mira.

A major catalyst for this change was the 2019 rape and pregnancy case of an 11-year-old girl from the countryside who was forced to give birth. The case shocked the world and, according to Belski, caused a shift in public opinion.

“Today abortion is no longer a taboo subject. People have started to make informed and unbiased decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and pregnancies,” says Belski. “Social organizations were positively affected as soon as the law was passed. They could finally speak freely about abortion and accompany women and pregnant people requesting access to abortion services.”

Overall, the situation in Argentina has improved; however, current gains are threatened, even as movements demand further advances. “Comprehensive sexual education and access to contraceptive methods are the main pillars of reproductive rights and there is resistance under the fallacious argument that it seeks to indoctrinate and sexualize children, when in fact it gives them tools, for example, to detect and denounce abuse,” concludes Abiuso on the upcoming battles for the right to decide in Argentina. 

Freedom to defend reproductive rights in Brazil

By Gabriel Leão

In September 2023, the president of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Rosa Weber, opened a virtual debate and voted in favor of decriminalizing abortion, stating that the illegality of the procedure fosters discrimination against women and violates their rights to equality, privacy, health, and sexual and reproductive rights. However, shortly thereafter his successor on the court, Luis Roberto Barrosso, suspended the debate.

“Considering what happened in the Supreme Court, there was a great possibility that we would open the debate, but it was suspended. Minister Rosa Weber deposited her vote, beautiful I might add, affirming that the question of abortion is a question of reproductive social justice, which is a reality in Brazil. The discourse on autonomy and individual freedom does not speak much in favor of the majority of Brazilian women, who are not really fighting so much for the right to decide about their own bodies, but for the right to live with a little more dignity and allow their families to survive. In many situations, the decision to abort for black and impoverished women has to do with that: more than a question of deciding about their own bodies, individual freedoms and bodily autonomy, for them it is a question of survival,” says gynecologist, obstetrician and academic Dr. Helena Paro in a video interview with Mira.

She adds, “The suspension of this debate by a white male minister means that this debate will probably remain for a long time in the hands of white men, considering that there is now no prospect of another woman entering the Supreme Court,” Dr. Paro observes. In 2021, Dr. Paro created the country’s first legal telemedicinal abortion service for women and girls who are victims of rape.

A fellow at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU) in the state of Minas Gerais, in the Southeast region, and a member of NUAVIDAS (Center for Comprehensive Care for Victims of Sexual Assault), Dr. Paro also works at the University Hospital as a physician. She has the tired eyes of those who gave everything during the Covid-19 pandemic that devastated Brazil, but she also carries the weariness of her permanent defense of reproductive rights, among them the option of abortion, which according to Brazilian law is a crime and can only be practiced if the pregnant person was raped, is at risk of death or has received a diagnosis of fetal anencephaly. The work for the right to abortion is an uphill battle in Brazil, a country with a strong and active presence of religious and conservative groups.

Just for talking about misoprostol – a drug currently restricted to hospitals, but often used in home abortions – Dr. Paro has been the victim of constant abuse and threats that have taken their toll. She attends abortions permitted by the aforementioned clauses.

“With my mental health in mind, I took a 10-month leave of absence from NUAVIDAS last year. Of course, there were also a number of conditioning factors such as professional burnout, but the threats played a major role in it,” Dr. Paro tells me with a mixture of sadness and indignation in her voice. 

“What I am doing is applying scientific evidence to give women more access, comfort and privacy in treatment, and at the same time relieving the Public Health System because every time it has to accept a patient to provide her with a treatment she could have at home, it is making a hospital bed available for someone who needs it.”

Despite all the difficulties, Dr. Paro states, “I am optimistic, but not that optimistic. I think the population has changed, mostly because media coverage has changed and people have sought out other sources and have become more engaged in the conversation, but as for the decision-makers, we’re still in a very shallow debate of ‘pros and cons’ and fundamentalist arguments.”

For Dr. Paro, advances in abortion laws in Latin American countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico offer a ray of hope for her cause in Brazil, “because they are our neighbors and live similar situations to ours” in terms of rationale, religiosity, machismo, etc.

At the end of the interview, Dr. Paro seemed excited to be able to share her point of view without being interrupted or, worse, threatened during our call. 

She expressed her hope that in the coming years more women, families and disadvantaged communities will be able to talk about having more access to knowledge about reproductive rights.

The Green Tide sweeps through Mexico 

By Olivia León 

The feminist and women’s and pregnant women’s rights victory in Mexico with the decriminalization of abortion at the federal level is not an isolated achievement. The green tide in Mexico-the struggle of organized women for the right to decide over our bodies-is best understood when read together with advances throughout the region: the legalization of abortion in Argentina in 2020, advances in this same area in Colombia, and small but important steps in other countries, such as the end of the ban on the emergency contraception pill in Honduras on March 8, 2023.

The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) concluded that the crime of abortion is unconstitutional, so it must be eliminated from the Federal Penal Code on September 6, 2023. Now no woman can be denounced or prosecuted for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy in the first months of gestation.

The long road to the right to decide

GIRE, Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida, a Mexican NGO with more than 30 years of experience fighting for sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico, along with many other collectives and organizations developed and executed a comprehensive nationwide strategy to guarantee access to safe abortion, focused on filing a series of amparos. In September 2021, one of these amparos was directed against the Congress of the Union and the Executive. On September 6 (2023), the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) reviewed the amparo and decided that no woman or pregnant woman can be punished for having an abortion and no health personnel can be punished for performing an abortion, including all federal health institutions. 

Verónica Esparza, Research Coordinator at GIRE, explained in an interview with Mira that this victory is a follow-up to a victory on September 6, 2021, when the Court recognized that the right of women to decide about their reproductive life is a constitutional right. That ruling provided the arguments to determine the unconstitutionality of banning abortion, used in the amparo won in September 2023. 

According to Esparza, “the amparo would have two results. On the one hand, the non-criminalization of health personnel who perform an abortion and of women and pregnant women and pregnant women who perform abortions, and that federal public health institutions must provide abortion services to those who request them.”

The pending agenda

“This is an important step, but let’s remember that there are still local regulatory frameworks in which the crime of abortion still exists,” warns Esparza. 

In Mexico, 12 states have decriminalized it in the first months of pregnancy. Of these, 10 were achieved through legislative means – reforming the local Congress and with reforms to the penal codes, which determine under what conditions or up to what period voluntary abortion will not be considered a crime. In most of them it is between 12-13 weeks. Guerrero decriminalizes it with no time limit but continues to punish health personnel or anyone who assists the person to have an abortion after 12 weeks, which is a major obstacle,” says Esparza. 

Later on we could see a domino effect, as we saw with the 12 states that today have already legislated on the road to decriminalization of abortion. The process can go through state legislatures or through the courts. The first option implies that the local Congresses assume political and legal responsibility for reforming the local penal codes in accordance with the Court’s rulings. 

The second scenario is in entities with more conservative parties. There, the legislatures will surely resist to adapt the laws, so they will wait for a judicial resolution, that is, the Judiciary would force the Congress to make the pertinent reforms in their Codes, as was the case in Aguascalientes. Aguascalientes became the 12th federal entity to decriminalize abortion, which will imply the Mexican State’s obligation to provide abortion services in the state. 


“Since the Coahuila ruling, the Court’s argument has been decriminalization and the need to have access to services to reinforce decriminalization. It is not enough that there is decriminalization if in practice women and pregnant women cannot have an abortion in the entity where they are,” says Esparza. 

The 2021 ruling obliges the state to provide abortion services. “In other words, decriminalization must be accompanied by the provision of services by the state,” he points out.  

One of the central lessons of past successful organizing is that advocacy strategies must be coherent and comprehensive. Along these lines, Esparza clarifies: “What is desirable, in order to have greater certainty, is that there be a reform to the General Health Law”. This reform would make it possible to develop the desirable and complete framework for access to abortion, and would clarify the procedures and guidelines for abortion services in public and private hospitals – not only for medical personnel, but for all personnel accompanying these processes. Such a reform would give much more certainty to all parties. Esparza points out that Colombia has achieved a Health Law of this type.  

He warns that in addition to the pending issues in the law, stigmatization does not end with decriminalization. All this effort is an achievement as a legal instrument, but it is not enough.  

“The fact that there is a time limit to be able to perform it (abortion) does not end with the stigma that criminalization implies; that is to say, until we achieve that it is conceived as a health service, as a right, until that moment we will be able to advance in this need or impulse to denounce, that they stop being stigmatized in their communities and in their spaces. That is why it is important for it to be present in the Penal Codes”.

It will also be necessary to provide mechanisms for its implementation: training, accompaniment of these cases, guaranteeing respectful, responsible, dignified and free abortion services. It is also necessary to consider how there will be integral reparation of the damage to those whose rights were violated. And, for all of this, the budget cannot be lacking.

“This is a great advance, but it is not enough; we have to continue advancing,” concluded Esparza. 



Crossing the Medicine Line

About 21 million people become climate refugees annually, from the big storms and droughts, and by 2050, 1.2 billion people


Latin America will be all feminist!

March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD), serves as a barometer of the strength of feminist and women’s movements, especially in