I’ve always been a sexual and reproductive health rights advocate. In fact, it is on 2621 Mercy Lane in Belize City that my organized leadership capacity was honed. It was at the Belize Family Life Association’s Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) that I was introduced to human rights, comprehensive sexuality education, and governance in a safe space that allowed me to question every and anything. I want to give special thanks to Arthur Usher, Ana Carillo and more recently Sheena Gentle for allowing me those freedoms. It was the place that I saw religious views come in direct conflict with human rights. Well, outside of the Christopher Columbus story of him ‘discovering the Americas’ and spreading Catholicism by any means necessary, including genocide. An elderly woman would kneel with bare knees in the afternoon heat on loose gravel to pray for the deliverance of the people who work inside the building. “Weird flex but okay.”
Recently, a fellow YAM member shared a satire-laced video that made good fun at the recent noose-like ‘heartbeat bill’ that was passed in the US Senate; that video has since been removed from Facebook. The bill classes abortion as a Class A felony that carries a punishment of 99 years in prison, which is basically a life sentence (FindLaw, 2019). Kudos to Uncle Sam on the speedy move on legislation; now if you can only deal with these semi-automatic assault rifles that are popping up at schools, clubs, and Walmarts and are spreading domestic terror, that would be most admirable. The passing of this bill was a move that goes directly against the Roe vs Wade US Supreme Court precedent that ruled that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional (Britannica, 1973).
Twitter went into an uproar, with one user, Mikel Jolett, saying, “Making abortions illegal, doesn’t prevent abortions. It kills women”, which is a stance I agree with. I came to write about abortion because a friend and mentor of mine quickly reminded me that it’s okay to empathize with the plight of others, but remember that we share the same plight a bit closer to home. So let’s shift our gaze to Latin America and the Caribbean and our home Belize, which is the bridge of this region. According to the Guttmacher Institute, fewer than 3% of the region’s women live in countries where abortion is broadly legal—that is, permitted either without restriction as to the reason or on socioeconomic grounds. (Guttmacher Institute, 2018). This poses a problem because then it restricts availability of, and access to, a service that is fundamentally a human right and then puts women in a Scylla and Charybdis situation of being further punished by a patriarchal, misogynistic legal system or having an abortion under less than safe conditions, which undoubtedly puts her life in jeopardy. The life of a living, breathing, thinking, human being.
It is recorded that about 760,000 women in the region are treated annually for complications from unsafe abortion and in 2014 at least 10% of all maternal deaths (or 900 deaths) in Latin America and the Caribbean were from unsafe abortion. (Guttmacher Institute, 2018). In Belize, the abortion law is guided by sections 108-110 of the Criminal Code, Ordinance No. 33 of 18 December 1980, and makes provision for abortion in cases where the “continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or if it would cause injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated.” (Women on Waves, n.d.) This, of course, still carries its restrictions and does not give women complete agency over their bodies, especially in a society that is very sexualized but at the same time treats sex as this taboo happenstance and does our people a grave injustice by not talking about it in the comprehensive way we should in schools and at home. I find that the call for legalizing abortions without restrictions has a stronger voice in Latin America than it does in the Caribbean. I saw this call take life on my visit to Peru in 2018 as a fellow in a youth camp hosted by the United Nations Population Fund and its partners and then at the Conference of the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development when women, children, and men stood up during a diplomat’s speech to chant together with their signature green bandanas over their faces. A riveting experience for me!
Before the naysayers start a debate on the basis of morality, here are some realities to consider. We can all take a walk through our foster and adoption systems, because there are children who are already here who need our attention and support NOW. Our mechanisms for child support need to be strengthened along with our mandate to have child-friendly courts. I am also still waiting for a report on what happened to lead to those girls perishing in flames at the Youth Hostel in 2015 and how we have since improved. We also want to look at building more awareness about family planning and safe sexual practices with our young men and young women and stop shaming and condemning them for being sexual beings. Before we police a woman’s uterus, we may want to look at our policing strategies that discriminate against young men and families from certain neighborhoods that have them crowded at the Hattieville prison. Finally, we have to take more seriously the timely and accurate reporting on the status of families and children as it relates to policy objectives and commitments made in our Children’s Agenda, The Montevideo Consensus, and the Mexico Declaration. All I am saying is to give women the right to choose what happens with our person. Abortion is a human right, Abortion is healthcare.
“educacion sexual para decidir, anticonceptivos para no abortar, aborto legal para no morir”