(poster from a successful Mexico City campaign to legalize abortion)
Yesterday in Plaza Bolívar, just off of the Asemblea Nacional, a group of pro-choice activists called attention to a glaring gap in the advances made by the Bolivarian Revolution. Despite one of the more progressive Constitutions of recent vintage, the 1999 Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not include among the rights of women the right to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to full term. In fact, in the Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is legal only in Mexico City, Cuba and Guyana.
The assembled activists ask the government to add to the Reforma proposed by President Chávez changes to Articles 76 and 84 of the constitution. In the current constitution, article 76 guarantees the rights of both parents regardless of their marital status to their children. It also guarantees parents the right to decide for themselves the size of their families, and obliges the state to provide pre and post-natal care. Activists would amend the article to “recognize the right of women to voluntarily interrupt their pregnancy for reasons of physical or mental health and in the case of rape, congenital birth defects, hereditary illnesses, or in the case when the parents do not have the economic capacity to guarantee the development of the child.” Finally, they would mandate that abortions be timely and performed without any form of discrimination against the women in question.
Article 84 currently obliges the state to provide a national health care system in order to care for the body politic. Proposed changes here would include attention to sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, they would make family planning, reproductive health and contraception usage subjects to be included in the national educational system.
In other words, much like Chávez’s own reforms, the reforms sought by these activists seek to push the potentials of the 1999 constitution further in their intended direction.
In Venezuela just as anywhere else, abortion is just as much about class and race as it is about the rights of women to control their own bodies. One activist remarked “Rich women get abortions in private clinics, or go abroad, while the poor have them in their houses or in clandestine locations where they use complicated or unsafe methods.”
The lack of legal status makes official statistics for the consequences of clandestine abortions hard to come by. However, one central Caracas maternity hospital reports that annually 24 young women (between the ages of 16 and 24) arrive with complications arising from illegal abortions.
Of those 24, 20 die.
This is clearly a place where the creativity and leadership of the Bolivarian Revolution is in need. The current policy, even more outdated than the 4th Republic, only serves to reinforce lines of class privilege. Keeping abortion illegal keeps the lives of poor women of lesser value than those of the rich. It reinforces a capitalist cultural perrogative that money is the final arbiter of ability. Furthermore, it treats women who have neither resources nor health to carry a pregnancy to term as penalized individuals -- that is, as liberal subjects of the old order rather than as the new protagonists of a developing collective creating not only a new society, but a new form of sociality based on equality and solidarity rather than competition and exclusion.
And until this situation is rectified, the Bolivarian Revolution will always be incomplete.