[Marxism] The fruits of counter-revolution
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 9 07:58:07 MDT 2006
INTERVIEW: AMERICA SOSA, BOARD MEMBER OF WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL NETWORK FOR
DEVELOPMENT & DEMOCRACY IN EL SALVADOR
By Deborah Tyroler, August 30, 1991
LADB: WINDS promotes itself as a feminist organization. What does feminism
mean in the Salvadoran context?
SOSA: It means the struggle for equal rights and responsibilities for men
and women. Feminism is the battle to break with the traditions which assign
specific activities to men and women. Thus, women are no longer present
solely to support men in their activities, but participate as well.
Salvadoran women are getting rid of the myths about what they can and
LADB: Do women's groups working to legalize or decriminalize abortion exist
in El Salvador?
SOSA: The women working in this area are fighting for informed choice.
Women's groups assert that abortion is not murder as the Church says. Women
who choose abortion do so because there is no other choice for them, no
other option. They do not feel they can bring another child into the world.
They are not going to be able to feed it. That is the most worrisome thing
for a mother...
Because abortion is illegal most women do it with herbs or pills which
provoke a violent abortion. Many of these women become ill and get cancer,
and many also die from infections. They are afraid to seek medical
assistance because they fear they will be castigated for having had an
abortion. There are doctors who don't want to treat a woman who has had an
abortion. There is a lot of discrimination and the government doesn't care
Our position is that abortions should be available for women who are in
difficult situations, and that women are fully capable of deciding for
themselves whether or not they can bring another child into the world.
NY Times Magazine, April 9, 2006
By JACK HITT
It was a sunny midafternoon in a shiny new global-economy mall in San
Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, and a young woman I was hoping
to meet appeared to be getting cold feet. She had agreed to rendezvous with
a go-between not far from the Payless shoe store and then come to a nearby
hotel to talk to me. She was an hour late. Alone in the hotel lobby, I was
feeling nervous; I was stood up the day before by another woman in a
similar situation. I had been warned that interviewing anyone who had had
an abortion in El Salvador would be difficult. The problem was not simply
that in this very Catholic country a shy 24-year-old unmarried woman might
feel shame telling her story to an older man. There was also the criminal
stigma. And this was why I had come to El Salvador: Abortion is a serious
felony here for everyone involved, including the woman who has the
abortion. Some young women are now serving prison sentences, a few as long
as 30 years.
More than a dozen countries have liberalized their abortion laws in recent
years, including South Africa, Switzerland, Cambodia and Chad. In a handful
of others, including Russia and the United States (or parts of it), the
movement has been toward criminalizing more and different types of
abortions. In South Dakota, the governor recently signed the most
restrictive abortion bill since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973, in Roe v.
Wade, that state laws prohibiting abortion were unconstitutional. The South
Dakota law, which its backers acknowledge is designed to test Roe v. Wade
in the courts, forbids abortion, including those cases in which the
pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Only if an abortion is necessary
to save the life of the mother is the procedure permitted. A similar though
less restrictive bill is now making its way through the Mississippi
In this new movement toward criminalization, El Salvador is in the
vanguard. The array of exceptions that tend to exist even in countries
where abortion is circumscribed rape, incest, fetal malformation, life of
the mother don't apply in El Salvador. They were rejected in the late
1990's, in a period after the country's long civil war ended. The country's
penal system was revamped and its constitution was amended. Abortion is now
absolutely forbidden in every possible circumstance. No exceptions.
There are other countries in the world that, like El Salvador, completely
ban abortion, including Malta, Chile and Colombia. El Salvador, however,
has not only a total ban on abortion but also an active law-enforcement
apparatus the police, investigators, medical spies, forensic vagina
inspectors and a special division of the prosecutor's office responsible
for Crimes Against Minors and Women, a unit charged with capturing, trying
and incarcerating an unusual kind of criminal. Like the woman I was waiting
I was on my sixth cup of coffee when I spotted my contacts two abortion
rights advocates who work in the region and a local nurse who had heard
this young woman's story. They entered the lobby surrounding another woman
like Secret Service agents. A quick glance let me know that I shouldn't
make a premature appearance. Even as I retreated to some large sofas, I
could hear the Spanish flying words of comfort, of being brave, of the
importance that others understand what is happening in El Salvador. At last
the retinue approached. I was not quite ready for what I saw. The woman, I
had been told, lived in a hovel in a very poor part of the town. Somehow
that had put a certain picture in my head. I don't know, call it sexism. I
just didn't expect to see a tall and strikingly beautiful woman with the
kind of big grin that could very well appear in one of those full-page ads
you might see in an airline magazine inviting people to "Vacation in El
We chatted briefly about the one thing I knew we had in common malls
before we went up to a quiet hotel room, where she and I could talk. One
intermediary acted as our interpreter. I agreed to call her by her
initials, D.C.; she is afraid to be identified by name, though she did
agree to be photographed. (While it was impossible to confirm every detail
of her story, I did later see legal records that corroborated her
description of events.) D.C. sat down, and now that we were ready to talk
about her experience, she started to cry. She wiped her eyes several times
with a paper napkin. She spent a few minutes folding and twisting it. D.C.
crossed her ankles and stared down at the shrinking napkin, now tightly
compacted into a large pill. Then she began to tell me her story.
I worked in a clothing factory two years ago. I have a son, 7 years old.
Well, when I found out I was pregnant, I didn't know what to do. I told my
friend. She told me if I was going to have it, I needed to think about
that. I had a child already. I told the father. He said he didn't want
another child. He didn't want to deal with problems like this. My mother
told me she would kick me out if I ever got pregnant again.
I started talking to my friend. Every day was so hard. I cried, and I
didn't do anything. I didn't want to see anybody, and I didn't sleep. My
friend told me to go to a man, and he gave me some pills. I was two months
pregnant. He said that I could put them in my vagina. I did, and after that
I just bled a couple of times. Two months more went by. I was still
pregnant. I cried and didn't know what to do. When I was about four months
along, my friend told me one of her friends lived near a house where there
was a woman who did abortions. I felt so worried. I didn't know what to do,
whether I should go talk to the woman. But then one day, I went.
With the signing of the Chapultepec Agreements in Mexico in 1992, El
Salvador's civil war came to an end. As the nation turned away from its
violent years, there were calls from both sides of the political divide
that it was time to re-examine certain social issues. One of them was
abortion. The country's abortion law, like the law in most Latin American
countries at the time, was already a near-ban with only a few exceptions,
specifically in cases of rape, serious fetal malformation and grave risk to
the mother's life. For decades, the law was rarely discussed, and enforced
quietly and somewhat subjectively. Once the issue was raised in the
political arena, though, Salvadorans discovered that a brand-new kind of
discourse on abortion had emerged in Latin America.
In El Salvador, a mostly Catholic country, abortion first surfaced as a
potent political issue in 1993, when conservative members of the Assembly
proposed that Dec. 28, the Catholic Feast of the Holy Innocents, be
declared a national day to remember the unborn. In 1995, the FMLN the
former guerrilla force that had transformed itself into the country's main
left-wing party supported a very different proposal in the National
Assembly. The proposal addressed a variety of women's issues, including
domestic violence and rape. It also contained a provision to extend the
abortion exceptions to include cases in which the mother's mental health
was threatened, even if her life was not. This liberalizing proposal was
rejected, but it provoked a debate, which in turn had the effect of raising
the political heat around the subject of abortion.
Also in 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed a new archbishop for San
Salvador, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle. Archbishops in El Salvador inherit a
potent history. During the civil war, many members of the clergy in El
Salvador were proponents of liberation theology, a liberal some would say
radical evangelical doctrine of social justice. The movement was despised
by the country's right-wing leaders. In 1980, in a hospital chapel,
Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, a proponent of liberation theology, was
shot and killed by a right-wing death squad while celebrating Mass. His
replacement, Arturo Rivera Damas, was also a supporter of liberation theology.
The pope's appointment of Lacalle 11 years ago brought to the Archdiocese
of San Salvador a different kind of religious leader. Lacalle, an outspoken
member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei, redirected the
country's church politics. Lacalle's predecessors were just as firmly
opposed to abortion as he was. What he brought to the country's
anti-abortion movement was a new determination to turn that opposition into
state legislation and a belief that the church should play a public role in
the process. In 1997, conservative legislators in the Assembly introduced a
bill that would ban abortion in all circumstances. The archbishop
campaigned actively for its passage.
"The ban was part of a backlash," I was told by Luisa Cabal, the legal
consultant for Latin America at the Center for Reproductive Rights, an
abortion rights organization based in New York. The proposed bill, Cabal
said, was a result of "the church's role in pushing for a conservative
agenda." With the archbishop's vocal support of the ban and conservative
groups fully energized, opposition soon became difficult. Any argument in
favor of therapeutic abortion was met with a religious counterargument.
Julia Regina de Cardenal runs the Yes to Life Foundation in San Salvador,
which provides prenatal care and job training to poor pregnant women. She
was a key advocate for the passage of the ban. She argued that the existing
law's exception for the life of the mother was outdated. As she explained
to me, "There does not exist any case in which the life of the mother would
be in danger, because technology has advanced so far." De Cardenal was
particularly vehement in responding in print to her opponents. As she wrote
in one Salvadoran newspaper column in 1997, "The Devil, tireless Prince of
Lies, has tried and will continue to try to change our laws in order to
kill our babies."
Positions on the strengthened ban essentially split along party lines, at
least at first. "The majority of our leadership came out in opposition,"
Lorena Peña, an FMLN representative in the Assembly, told me. But the FMLN
held only a minority of the seats in the 84-member Assembly, and they were
unable to stop the bill. The proposal to ban all abortions passed the
Assembly in 1997 and became the law of the country in April 1998.
"But that was not enough," de Cardenal later wrote in an article recounting
the victory. In 1997, her foundation also proposed a constitutional
amendment that would recognize the government's duty to protect life from
the time of conception.
A proposed constitutional amendment in El Salvador has to pass two
important votes. It must be accepted by a majority in one session of the
Assembly and then, after a new election, ratified by a two-thirds vote in
the next Assembly. During the first vote, in 1997, FMLN legislators stood
against the amendment, but they were outvoted, and the amendment passed the
In January 1999, as the issue headed toward the second vote in the
Assembly, Pope John Paul II visited Latin America. "The church must
proclaim the Gospel of life and speak out with prophetic force against the
culture of death," he declared in Mexico City."May the continent of hope
also be the continent of life!" De Cardenal says that the pope's visit
re-energized supporters of the constitutional ban. As the vote neared, her
group rolled out a series of radio ads in favor of the amendment and
presented legislators with a petition of more than 500,000 signatures. At
one demonstration, members of the group sprinkled the National Assembly
with holy water. To punctuate her campaign, de Cardenal arranged to have
two pregnant women come to the Assembly and have ultrasounds publicly
performed on their fetuses.
The leadership of the FMLN, afraid that the party would be trounced in the
coming elections if they were on the record as opposing the amendment,
freed its deputies from their obligation to follow the party's position and
urged them to vote with their consciences. When the final vote was taken,
the amendment passed overwhelmingly.
The legislative battle and its outcome did not escape the attention of
leaders of anti-abortion groups in the United States. Rev. Thomas J.
Euteneuer, the head of Human Life International, based in Virginia, is
intimately familiar with the campaign in El Salvador and says that there
are lessons for Americans to learn from it. For one thing, as Euteneuer
sees it, the Salvadoran experience shows that all moves to expand abortion
rights are pushed through by "elite" institutions of government (the U.S.
Supreme Court, for example); by contrast, Euteneuer contends, when the laws
are tightened, a grass-roots campaign is inevitably responsible. "El
Salvador is an inspiration," he told me recently, an important victory in
what he called "the counterrevolution of conscience."
Today, Article 1 of El Salvador's constitution declares that the prime
directive of government is to protect life from the "very moment of
conception." The penal code detailing the Crimes Against the Life of Human
Beings in the First Stages of Development provides stiff penalties: the
abortion provider, whether a medical doctor or a back-alley practitioner,
faces 6 to 12 years in prison. The woman herself can get 2 to 8 years.
Anyone who helps her can get 2 to 5 years. Additionally, judges have ruled
that if the fetus was viable, a charge of aggravated homicide can be
brought, and the penalty for the woman can be 30 to 50 years in prison.
(This article is too long to post in its entirety, but can be read online
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