Governments around the globe are using the COVID19 pandemic as a political opportunity to undermine sexual and reproductive rights. We see examples coming from Poland, the United States, and many others. And after more than a decade of policy and legal advances in the matter, Uruguay is following this worrisome trend.
The new government in force—since 1 March this year—has already set the tone for its term. During a press conference on 4 May 2020 that was meant to address the COVID19 pandemic, the president in power publicly declared that the government had a “pro-life” agenda, that abortions will be “discouraged” during his term and that adoptions will be encouraged. While the Vice-president rapidly announced that there will be no backtrack in terms of the legal framework, she reiterated that the official government’s stance is “pro-life”. A week later, the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries in a dehumanizing statement compared the numbers of femicides with the number of cattle rustling. These declarations set the tone for the next term and call for strict vigilance to all initiatives that will undermine our human rights.
In the context of an abortion law that sets a series of burdensome requirements, including a mandatory consultation with a multidisciplinary team that is legally mandated to discusses “alternatives” to abortion and that has been widely resisted by Uruguayan doctors, this discourse enables barriers to access and reinforces abortion stigma. The evident lack of political will to pursue further advances on the topic and to implement and interpret the current framework in a progressive manner, further worsens the shortcomings of the law.
Furthermore, one of the first actions of this government amidst the pandemic was to submit a “Law of Urgent Consideration” (LUC) to be discussed in parliament. The LUC has 501 articles, touches upon a wide range of topics, and has been given a meager period of debate of three months which seems particularly opportunistic in the context of the COVID19 outbreak, especially taking into account the questionable “urgency” of these reforms. Undoubtedly, this initiative weakens the democratic process of law-making and signals the anti-rights and anti-gender stance of this new government that unfortunately fits within an alarming regional trend.
The government is taking this pandemic as an opportunity to attack many other rights while people's heads are turned. Citizens are fighting a global health challenge of international dimensions; they are facing economic instability (caused in part by the 10% rise in essential services such as gas and electricity) and when mobility is severely restricted. The law has a series of very problematic components that would require a more serious debate in the context of active civil society participation. For example, the law proposes changes to the criminal code, it withdraws funds for programs related to gender-based violence, adopts a purely punitive approach that creates new crimes but seriously underfunds any prevention program or survivor-centric services. And in a broader frame of reproductive justice, the law has a clear neoliberal and paternalistic approach and, among other things, limits freedom of expression and access to public information, proposes the privatization of public services and many other attacks to the rights agenda that has been built throughout this past decade. A thorough analysis of the LUC done by MYSU can be found here.
For these reasons, this 28 May International Day of Action for Women’s Health MYSU and youth coalition Gozarte reaffirm its comment on sexual and reproductive rights. We invite everybody to dress in the red-and-white costume inspired in Margaret Atwood's novel adaptation and join us in protest against the government’s attempts to undermine our rights. Our reproductive autonomy is at risk and conservative forces use the pandemic as an opportunity to dismantle our rights.
You can see more details here and support the hashtag #ConocéTusDerechos in social media.
This is not a time for opportunistic retrogressive measures. The attacks on our sexual and reproductive rights are the real urgency.