How restrictive abortion law results in forced pregnancy

Women’s March Global interviewed Bárbara Jiménez, Americas Regional Coordinator for Equality Now about forced pregnancy

Women’s March Global interviewed Bárbara Jiménez, Americas Regional Coordinator for Equality Now (@equalitynow) about the issue of forced pregnancies, and how these relate to the access to abortion, especially in Latin America.

What is forced pregnancy?

Forced pregnancy is when any girl, adolescent or woman who becomes pregnant without wanting it and the termination of the pregnancy is not allowed or is hindered.

What is child forced pregnancy?

A study carried out by CLADEM in 14 countries in the region [Latin America] suggested that forced child pregnancy occurs “when a girl (for this study, under 14 years old) becomes pregnant without having sought or desired it, and the interruption of the pregnancy is denied, hindered, delayed or made difficult.” CLADEM also includes as a possible forced pregnancy, any sexual relationship in which, despite the consent protected by law, the girl did not understand the consequences, as she was not exposed to sex education; or knowing them, she could not prevent the pregnancy, since she was unable to access contraceptive methods before and after sexual intercourse. The latter assumption is about girls who begin to explore their sexuality at an early age with partners of own age or a little older than them, but who have not been exposed to sexual education, or learned about their sexual and reproductive rights, or had access to methods contraceptives

How does this issue relate to abortion laws? Is there a correlation between both of these?

In every way. Having access to the necessary health services is a basic right under international law. If the right to legal, safe, and accessible abortion does not exist, it is very likely that the unwanted or desired pregnancy will be forced. These pregnancies are usually caused by sexual violence by relatives or acquaintances, or by not providing sex education or access to contraceptive methods. On many occasions, girls have to resort to clandestine abortions putting their lives at serious risk. Motherhood must be a free decision and women and girls must be provided with safe and accessible conditions for the termination of pregnancy, and thus facilitate the equality of women. Granting them this right can save the lives of women and girls. This right is not abstract, it requires a policy and protocols that require a trans-disciplinary group of health professionals to guide and assist girls and women in understanding the alternatives and consequences of physical and emotional health, the risks to their lives, and the impact that terminating a pregnancy or trying to carry it out may have in their life. Also, the abortion law efforts must come with preventive efforts like sexual education and a strong prevention policy to protect girls from rape. This is more relevant when we talk about girls under 15 years of age since their body or mind is not in the optimal development stage to carry out a pregnancy, give birth, or become mothers.

Why is the vote in Argentina important in regards to forced pregnancy?

Argentina is in a historic position to prioritize the well-being and health of women and girls by providing them with the right to decide on their body and reproduction. If this abortion law is approved in Argentina, it will be a great step for the Latin American and Caribbean region and even for the entire world. We are looking, supporting and hoping that the result will be positive. In Argentina, as in other countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region, girls’ pregnancies have not diminished in recent decades (UNICEF Argentina, 2017). In Argentina there were around 3,000 live births in 2015 to girls under 15 years of age, according to CLADEM’s report To Play or Give Birth. This is not counting those who had a clandestine abortion or miscarriages, or the maternal mortality rates. We know that if the legal, safe and accessible abortion law is passed it is not enough to eliminate forced pregnancies, much more is needed, but we are convinced that it is a great step for women and girls to exercise their reproductive rights and corporal autonomy.

What has been Equality Now’s role in the fight against forced pregnancy?

Our work is aimed at supporting local organizations that fight for the rights of women and girls through different advocacy strategies to promote change in laws, creation of protocols and their implementation. There are thousands upon thousands of girls who are being sexually assaulted on a daily basis in our region, many get pregnant as a result of these aggressions. We have seen from our work in the Latin American and Caribbean region, together with the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (CLADEM) and in Cochabamba Bolivia with Una Brisa de Esperanza Center, CUBE, the limits that this places on the lives of girls and adolescents, in addition to being victims of sexual aggression, they are forced to be mothers. Whoever thinks that the trauma in the life of these girls ends with delivery is very far from reality. We witness how the physical and emotional health, the right to education and the opportunity for these girls to have a full life has been affected. It takes a lot of support and economic investment on the part of the State to address the root of this problem: sexual violence and the opportunity to end the pregnancies that occur as a result of this violence.

This article originally appeared on Women's March Global's Medium.

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About Equality Now: Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. It’s international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. For more information go to www.equalitynow.org.

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