What We Must Learn From Latin America in a Post-Roe World

The U.S. is only beginning to scratch the surface of the kinds of horrors that banning abortion will beget. Our neighbors in Latin America have understood this reality for years.

Women at a Green Wave protest in Argentina in 2019. (Gisela Curioni / Wikimedia Commons)

The reversal of Roe v. Wade has sent shock waves through the United States and beyond. Political movements are not contained by geographic borders and now, neither is access to abortion. Our ability to get the abortion care we need is now undeniably a transnational issue, and so, too, is our movement to secure abortion rights. We cannot afford to ignore the wins and the lessons learned from our neighbors and friends around the globe as we embark on the long road ahead to rebuild power and restore our right to abortion in the U.S.

Not even two months after the Supreme Court’s disastrous blow to our health, rights and gender equity, abortion is already banned outright in 10 states. And opponents of abortion are not content to stop there. Bills percolating or promised in state legislatures offer up cash bounties for turning abortion patients in, callously disregard nonviable pregnancies that endanger our lives, and threaten companies who seek to support their employees who may need abortion care. They even consider blocking pregnant people from traveling across state lines to access abortion care and investigating miscarriages

Outrageously, conservative lawmakers and activists alike have seized on the heart-wrenching story of a 10-year-old Ohio girl, pregnant as the result of rape, whose journey to necessary healthcare required legal scrutiny and a ghoulish national conversation on the merits of forcing a child to carry a pregnancy to term. Her physician may now be subject to an investigation, demonstrating that there is no bottom anti-abortion leaders won’t strive to reach. Doctors shouldn’t be forced to pursue defamation cases simply for providing needed and compassionate healthcare. 

While we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the kinds of horrors that banning abortion will beget in the U.S., our neighbors in Latin America have understood this reality for years. This is a region where there is a total abortion ban in El Salvador, where access to emergency contraception is illegal in Honduras, and where IVF was illegal for over a decade in Costa Rica. We’ve seen firsthand that the outcome of abortion bans is to turn any pregnant person into a suspected criminal; abortion bans send women to prison for suspected abortions, tearing families and communities apart, and lead to bans on emergency contraception like in Honduras.

But a country’s hostile climate on abortion rights can also catalyze solutions, like networks of Mexican activists helping people in the U.S. access abortion pills. Our own elected officials must better understand what is happening on the ground, so our public policies can reflect our realities. To do so, we recently organized a delegation of U.S. state legislators to visit Mexico to experience this themselves and to begin to understand the journey someone seeking an abortion may make to get the care they want outside of the U.S. The American fight to win back something better than Roe—which was never enough to ensure available abortion care for anyone who needs it—is now a global fight, too.

In 2020, Argentina ushered in the Green Wave, a rally cry to ensure and expand access to legal abortion and reproductive healthcare that has gained traction in a region known for its religious influence over politics and social beliefs. Their success depended in part on linking abortion to broader gender-based movements and centering public health rather than individual rights. On the heels of Argentina’s victory, Mexico and Colombia have decriminalized abortion, too. Now, the Green Wave is staking claim in the U.S. and infusing a global energy into an American movement long stymied by partisan politics.

Our collective history, throughout the Americas and the world, tells us abortion has always existed and it always will. Communities will find ways to take care of themselves and each other, even when laws won’t protect us. Abortion care in a post-Roe U.S. may involve securing pills online or through medical tourism. But tragically, it will also look like increased criminalization of people who can become pregnant and the further policing of our bodies, especially those already under intense scrutiny due to our country’s deep racism. 

The Green Wave used dedicated organizing, tailored to individual communities and regions, coupled with a culture change strategy that meets people where they are and a relentless commitment to abortion as healthcare and healthcare as a human right to create change. Our call for continued global conversations on abortion can move us beyond a U.S.-centric framework and into a global movement for change. Let’s welcome the Green Wave to America with open arms.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About and

Paula Avila-Guillen is a Colombian human rights lawyer, activist and executive director of Women’s Equality Center.
Kelly Baden is the vice president of reproductive rights at SiX, a national resource and strategy center that collaborates with state legislators to improve people’s lives through transformative public policy.