From Roe v. Wade to the Green Wave in Latin America

The journey from Roe v. Wade to the big green wave has been decades-long, and has included several generations of feminist movements.

From <em>Roe v. Wade</em> to the Green Wave in Latin America
Argentina’s recent legalization of early abortion is a direct result of organized activism and mass demonstrations demanding legal abortion. (Matilde Teran)

This 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade coincides with an important victory in Argentina for abortion rights and gives us an opportunity to compare, contrast and learn. Roe was not just the beginning of a new era for women’s rights—it was also a culmination of decades of activism, in the United States, demanding that women no longer be forced to risk their lives to access abortion. Activists demanded that women be allowed to decide to end a pregnancy.

In Latin America, decades of grassroots organizing is paying off, with legislative progress, landmark litigation and cultural sea changes in the struggle to legalize abortion. Led largely by young feminists, the demands of women and men across the continent include access for those women and girls who are most marginalized and for the state to meet its obligation to provide health care and to stop criminalizing women who decide to end their pregnancies.

Indeed, Argentina’s recent legalization of early abortion is a direct result of organized activism and mass demonstrations demanding legal abortion. Those demonstrations, called Ola Verde, the “green wave,” not only forged the path for Argentina’s recent victory but also buoyed reproductive rights efforts throughout the region. 

https://twitter.com/CampAbortoLegal/status/1349854545556500486

In Colombia, over 200 organizations and activists have united, under the Causa Justa (Just Cause) movement, to take abortion out of the nation’s criminal code. Much like Roe, this case is the culmination of decades of activism, including a Constitutional Court case litigated in 2006 to end Colombia’s complete ban on abortion, making it legal if the woman’s health or life is at risk, the pregnancy is the result of rape or there are serious fetal abnormalities. 

The Constitutional Court recently accepted the case filed by Causa Justa, arguing that criminalizing abortion “violates the fundamental rights of women and health personnel.” If successful, Colombia would make history as the first country in Latin America—and third in the world, along with Canada and South Korea—to take abortion out of the criminal code and recognize it for what it truly is: a medical procedure that is sometimes necessary to save the lives of women.


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The years of work by activists from many spheres has transformed public debate to create space for discussion and, hopefully, judicial recognition that criminalizing a medical procedure that a woman may need to save her life is discriminatory. In fact, there is no medical procedure that a man would need to save his life in any criminal code in the world.  

Taking abortion out of the criminal code would be transformative. Many Colombian women fear that they will be prosecuted even if their abortion is legal. Those who try to access safe, legal abortion may have trouble finding a provider, as doctors also fear criminal prosecution. Barriers are even greater for women living in poverty or in rural areas or who are discriminated against because they are migrants.

Women’s rights movements in the global south have gone beyond the protections of Roe, which only made abortion legal, to demand that the state meet its obligations to protect the life and health of all women.

From Roe v. Wade to the Green Wave in Latin America
A 2017 March for Safe Abortion in Argentina. (International Women’s Health Coalition / Flickr)

The journey from Roe v. Wade to the big green wave has been decades-long, and has included several generations of feminist movements. Each generation brings new and bold ideas that bring us closer to inclusive equality. In recent years, movements for women’s rights—like #MeToo and the Women’s Marches around the globe—have inspired and influenced activists, allies and members of marginalized communities to speak up and demand that women’s voices are heard and women’s rights are respected.

We are in the midst of a fundamental culture change, as gender-based oppression and discrimination are irrefutably rejected. Silent no more; women around the world are not going back—and we’re not backing down. We are creating the conditions for more reproductive justice victories throughout the world,  like the legislative changes in Argentina.

Women’s rights activists from south to north will keep fighting until all women and girls can access all their fundamental human rights, including safe, legal and dignified abortion.

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About

Viviana Waisman is president and CEO of Women’s Link Worldwide and an expert in women’s rights and human rights law. Women’s Link Worldwide litigated the 2006 case in Colombia that resulted in legalizing abortion in some cases.