Activists Seek Audience Before Venezuela's Constituent Assembly to Debate Legalization of Abortion

The Caribbean nation’s legislation criminalizes abortion, resulting in innumerable maternal deaths annually.

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In Caracas, women stand together for the depenalization of abortion
In Caracas, women stand together for the depenalization of abortion. (Araña Feminista)
By Cira Pascual Marquina
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Caracas, June 20, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A diverse group of activists demonstrated in front of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in Caracas Wednesday, demanding the legalization of abortion. Numbering approximately 200, those present included both women and men, together with youth, LGBTQ and feminist groups. They went to the ANC asking for an audience to argue the right of women to decide over their own bodies.

As a result of the protest, a small group of activists met with the ANC’s Women’s and Gender Equality Commission, which agreed to present the request to the Assembly’s leadership. Since the results were inconclusive, however, most leaders of the protests expressed the need for ongoing mobilization.

Daniela Inojosa of the Araña Feminista organization spoke to Venezuelanalysis upon exiting the meeting. She said that the encounter was cordial, but vowed to go on struggling.

“Regardless of what they say, we are going to be here the 28th of each month,” Inojosa stated.

“We aren’t going to give up. We feminists know that the only way to get our rights is taking them from those who have them.”

Since September of last year, activists for women’s rights have repeatedly requested that the ANC listen to their concerns – including legal abortion but also sex education in schools, humanized childbirth, and access to contraceptives.

So far they have not succeeded. However, with the recent step forward for legal abortion in Argentina – where the country’s Chamber of Deputies approved a bill for legalization last week – many feel there is an opportunity to advance the cause and change Venezuela’s conservative legal code.

The Bolivarian Revolution has done a great deal for Venezuelan women during its almost two decades in power, but abortion remains almost completely criminalized. Though it claims to protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights, the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution declares that life begins at conception, and abortions are strictly illegal, except when a doctor decides that childbirth poses a threat to the woman's life.

With Paraguay, Venezuela currently has the most draconian anti-abortion legislation on the continent. The punishment for a woman who has an abortion is six months to two years in prison. A doctor or nonprofessional who performs the procedure can be sentenced to one to three years.

Nancy Gonzalez, national coordinator of the Araña Feminista, told Venezuelanalysis, “Our proposal is explicit. The new constitution must have an article that states that women have the right to decide over their bodies and that they can interrupt, unilaterally, in a voluntary way, a pregnancy.”

“The state must guarantee [the option to abort] in secure conditions through the 12th week of gestation,” she added.

Despite abortion being illegal, pregnancy terminations are widely practiced in Venezuela. Yet their illegal status makes them more traumatic, costly and dangerous.

In this regard, Alejandra Laprea of the Tinta Violeta collective told Venezuelanalysis: “Obviously the penalization of abortion does not keep us from aborting. What it fosters is a very lucrative business so that rich women can abort, and poor woman, who cannot afford to access these channels, are forced into unwanted motherhood or turn to terminations carried out in unsanitary and dangerous conditions that can lead to death.”

“The problem is for all women, but the ones who die are poor women,” Laprea concluded.

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