Guayaquil, Ecuador, September 29, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) Venezuelan feminist movements marched in Caracas to demand abortion decriminalization.
The mobilization held on Tuesday was organized by the "Ruta Verde" platform, which brings together women's rights organizations, collectives and activists from across the country. Carrying "Legal abortion now" banners, demonstrators went from Morelos square in Bellas Artes to the National Assembly (AN), where they presented a document with three demands.
The movements' spokespeople were received by deputies from the AN's social development and family committees, who agreed to establish an agenda focused on women's reproductive and sexual rights. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for October 13.
"What we are asking is the decriminalization of abortion, which is punished in all its forms, with the sole exception of a woman's life being at risk, but without taking into consideration women's overall health, cases of rape, incest or the fetus inviability," Daniela Inojosa from the Tinta Violeta feminist collective told Venezuelanalysis.
The 'Ruta Verde' platform marched to the National Assembly in Caracas on Tuesday. (@Rutaverdevzla)
In the document delivered at the AN, the feminist groups request to eliminate articles 430, 431, 433 and 434 of the country's Penal Code. The legislation establishes six months to two year prison sentences for women who have an abortion, while doctors or nonprofessionals who perform or facilitate the procedure face one to three years.
A recent high-profile case was the arrest of women's rights activist Vannesa Rosales in October 2020 for allegedly providing a 13-year-old rape victim with Cytotec abortion pills. The 31-year-old school teacher was facing up to 25 years in prison after a local judge added "association to commit a crime" to the accusations. In July, charges were dropped and she was released from house arrest following a wide-reaching pressure campaign.
Speaking to Venezuelanalysis, Venezuelan feminist lawyer Yelena Carpio argued that Rosales' "case proves that the legal code is a real threat to anyone who dares help a woman terminate an unwanted pregnancy and even save her life."
Venezuela's criminal code on the subject was developed in 1915 and is one of the oldest on the continent. Despite being partially reformed in 2005, the four articles that penalize abortion remain unchanged. Activists point out that the text contradicts the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees women's sexual and reproductive rights and establishes that couples have the right to decide the number of children they wish to conceive. The Magna Carta, however, does not explicitly recognize abortion.
"Our country has one of the most punitive legal codes regarding abortion in the region. It is unconstitutional and it violates fundamental human rights contemplated in international law," said Laura Cano, also from Tinta Violeta, interviewed by Venezuelanalysis.
The young activist and journalist stressed that "Venezuela's legal framework on abortion is deeply conservative and patriarchal," recalling that prison sentences may be reduced if a judge rules that the pregnancy termination was carried out to "save the honor" of the woman's husband or another male relative.
"It is a lie that criminalization saves lives or that women have fewer abortions. On the contrary, it increases stigmatization, guilt and unsafe procedures," Cano added.
Additionally, the document brought forward by the feminist organizations proposes a public debate on abortion "based on human rights, ethics and scientific evidence, free from moral and religious biases." The text goes on to urge that a legislation draft that "guarantees women's right to safe abortion" be included in the 2021-2022 National Assembly agenda.
Although there are no official statistics, women's rights movements estimate that unsafe abortions are the third cause of maternal deaths in the country. Furthermore, Venezuela's ongoing economic crisis has aggravated low-income women's situation, leaving them without access to contraceptive methods due to their scarcity and high cost.
Faldas-R, a combative feminist organization that runs a secure abortion hotline, released a report on Tuesday revealing that 619 women, the majority between ages 25-26, contacted them in 2020. They likewise registered a slight increase in teenagers seeking help.
While the organization's data is not representative of the country's population, it provides a glimpse into the issue. The investigation also revealed that 42 percent of women were workers and 24 percent were students. Additionally, 29 percent used a contraceptive method and 69 percent did not (2 percent were victims of sexual abuse). At least 50 percent already had children.
Faldas-R added that 86 percent of women that reached out to them said they were in favor of abortion legalization.
Despite over 30 years of grassroots struggles, the discussion on safe, free and legal abortion in Venezuela has remained stagnant. The most recent efforts were in 2018 when Faldas-R requested that the Supreme Court (TSJ) annul the criminal code anti-abortion articles. That same year, a number of women's rights collectives urged the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) to modify Article 76 of the Constitution and legalize the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, but the body dissolved in 2020 before drafting a new constitutional draft.
However, recent advances in the region have boosted Venezuela's struggle. In early September, Mxico's Supreme Court ruled that abortion criminalization was unconstitutional. The move followed Argentina's landmark abortion legalization at the end of 2020.
Venezuela's "Ruta Verde" campaign was created in August to ramp up mobilization in defense of women's sexual and reproductive rights, access to contraceptive methods and adequate sex education in schools.
The Ruta Verde march took place on International Safe Abortion Day, celebrated every September 28 to call for women's rights. (Twitter: @rutaverdevzla / @gruponosotrxs)