Venezuela: Feminist Collectives Demand Abortion Rights, State-Church Separation

The country continues to be far behind in Latin America when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights.
feminist rally abortion rights
The feminist rally was staged outside the National Assembly (AN) building. (Venezuelanalysis)

Caracas, September 29, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Dozens of feminist organizations staged a rally to demand free, legal and safe abortion and to denounce the influence of religious anti-rights groups inside the government.

Despite the heavy rain, feminist activists and allied LGBTQI+ groups gathered on Thursday outside the National Assembly (AN) in Caracas to bring attention to the lack of legislation regarding sexual and reproductive rights while abortion continues to be criminalized in the country’s penal code.

The activity was called “Green Gathering” and it was held to commemorate International Safe Abortion Day. The event was organized by the “Ruta Verde” [Green Route] platform, which brings together feminist collectives from across Venezuela in the struggle for women’s rights, especially abortion.

“We have come here to demand what is our right. We are part of the international Green Wave, we are women that have decided to mobilize for sexual and reproductive rights, secular education and legal abortion,” said Suhey Ochoa from the feminist organization Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses).

The young activist stated that Venezuela is far behind many other Latin American countries where abortion rights demands have been achieved in recent years, with Mexico being the latest to decriminalize abortion in a historic ruling by the Supreme Court.

Ochoa criticized the National Assembly for suspending all activities in advance of the pro-abortion rally, which frustrated the goal of the feminist coalition to deliver a new document with specific demands.

“They did not meet today because they are not interested in women’s lives,” stressed the feminist activist, adding that neither the government nor the right wing “cares about women’s rights” and that is why the feminist movement has become independent.

Venezuela’s legislation is one of the most restrictive on the continent, banning abortion in all cases, including rape, incest and fetus inviability. The penal code establishes six months to two-year prison sentences against those who interrupt a pregnancy, while doctors or anyone who performs or facilitates the procedure face one to three years behind bars. The only case in which abortion is legal is when the woman’s life is at risk. 

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 the situation of low-income women, leaving them without access to contraceptive methods or medical treatments due to their high cost.

“In Venezuela, abortion exists but it is a class privilege because rich women can access them in private clinics. It is us, the women from poor neighborhoods, the ones who are dying [from unsafe abortions],” explained Wilmaira Ríos from the feminist collective Mujeres en Lucha [Women in Struggle].

The feminist activist stressed that “there is no political will to legislate in favor of poor women.” She recalled that in September 2021, deputies from the National Assembly held a meeting with activists from the Ruta Verde platform and agreed to establish an agenda to discuss women’s rights and the elimination of abortion bans. 

A series of meetings followed that 2021 meeting and the feminist movement eventually introduced the first draft of a sexual and reproductive rights law while launching a national campaign to collect signatures and build popular support. However, the talks did not continue with deputies often canceling meetings, and the bill has remained stagnated.

For her part, trans activist and lawyer Richelle Briceño denounced that the legislative body has been “kidnapped” by religious groups that are pushing an anti-rights agenda criminalizing women and the LGBTQI+ community

She called for the separation of church and state in order to guarantee people’s rights to sexual and reproductive freedom and, gender identity, as well as the right to live without discrimination.

“Why is the National Assembly, which should work for the people, kidnapped by religious and conservative groups? Why have they betrayed their mandate to vindicate our humanity?” expressed Briceño.

In recent months, government officials have openly embraced Evangelical groups’ initiatives to ban sexual education in schools and maintain abortion prohibitions. In July, after a march against an anti-discrimination law draft, anti-rights groups were received by a delegation of deputies from the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV).

Additionally, the government has created two programs to fix churches and hand bonuses to evangelical leaders, drawing criticism from feminists, LGBTQI+ and leftist circles that demand state funding to be used for more pressing matters such as healthcare and women’s issues.