[Marxism] The fruits of counter-revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 9 07:58:07 MDT 2006


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 
cannot do.

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 
at all.

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
Pro-Life Nation

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 
to meet.

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 
first round.

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 
at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/magazine/09abortion.html

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