reproductive rights

Poland's victory: can it happen in US?

Poland's increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace Dec. 18, chanting "freedom, equality, democracy." President Andrzej Duda admitted the legislation was too controversial, and tellingly made his announcement after consulting with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of his right-populist Law & Justice Party (PiS). Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber Dec. 19, when opposition MPs blockaded the entrance, forcing PiS MPs into another room to vote on next year's budget. The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS government since it came to power in October 2015. The EU this week issued a formal protest of moves to restrict the independence of the judiciary. But this is not the first victory over the PiS regime. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country. (The Guardian, Dec. 21; The Guardian, Dec. 19; BBC News, Dec. 18; The News, Poland, Dec. 16)

Protests mount in Peru ahead of run-off

Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)

Peru elections: 'dangerous farce'?

Reuters takes relief that Peruvian markets jumped on April 11 as results showed two "free-market candidates" emerging victorious from the previous day's first-round presidential race. "Conservative" Keiko Fujimori, with an estimated 40% of the vote, will now face "centrist" Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with some 22%, in a June run-off. Markets evidently reacted favorably to the failure of "nationalist" Veronika Mendoza to make the second round, winning only some 18%. As the headline put it: "Two pro-business candidates make Peru runoff, markets rise." The BBC News calls Fujimori "centre-right." New York Times also calls Kuczynski "centrist" and (more accurately) Keiko "right-wing." These labels reveal illusions, and the degree to which what used to be the right is now considered the "center." Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK) is a former World Bank economist and veteran cabinet minister under the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. He is the one who is actually the "conservative" of the "center-right"—a standard neoliberal technocrat. Fujimori's intransigent and unapologetic defense of her father Alberto Fujimori—who ruled as a dictator in the '90s and is now imprisoned for assassinations and human rights abuses—clearly places her on the far right.

Colombia: FARC accused in forced abortions

Colombia is seeking the extradition of an alleged former FARC medic who was arrested in Spain on Dec. 11 and is accused of having carried out hundreds of forced abortions on female guerilla fighters. The man, Héctor Albeidis Arboleda, has been working as a nurse in Madrid for the past three years, and is a graduate of Cuba's Inter-American University of Health. He is wanted by Colombia  authorities for carrying out forced abortions on FARC fighters in Chocó and Antioquia regions. Colombia's Fiscal General Eduardo Montealegre, in announcing the extradition request, said, "We have evidence to prove that forced abortion was a policy of the FARC...based on forcing a female fighter to abort so as not to lose her as an instrument of war." A Fiscalía spokesperson told news-magazine Semana, "Several women died in these abortion practices, others were injured. Others referred to this as torture."

Another day, another massacre...

OK, here we go. Get ready for the tiresome semantic debate about whether the San Bernardino massacre was "terrorism," or not. As if that's the most important question we should be grappling with.... Was this yet another random "mass-shooting" motivated by some personal grudge and rooted in America's homegrown culture of vigilantism and personal revenge? (This kind of thing is so commonplace that the same day's shoot-up in Savannah, Ga., barely made the news because only four people were shot, one fatally, the WaPo says.) Or was it inspired or even directed by an extremist political tendency of one stripe or another? This question is pathologically politicized...

Peru: justice at last in sterilization abuse?

Peru's government on Nov. 6 issued a decree calling for an investigation into the forced sterilization of poor and peasant women under the regime of now-imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. "Never again in Peru can we implement a policy of fighting poverty by violating the reproductive rights of poor families," President Ollanta Humala said in a televsised address announcing the move. Justice Ministry Decree 006-2015 orders formation of a National Registry of Forced Sterilization Victims and establishment of a "legal framework to implement" restitution, including legal assistance, psychological treatment and healthcare. Some 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilized as part of the mid-1990s program, although it is unclear how many of these were coercive. Government health workers went door-to-door to coax, cajole and bully women into submitting to sterilization, according to accounts from poor rural communities. Many survivors say they were threatened with a fine or prison if they refused to be sterilized. Advocates who have been pressing for an official investigation view the campaign as one of Peru's biggest human rights scandals. (Jezebel, Nov. 9; Peru This Week, Nov. 6; Reuters, June 7)

Burkina Faso: counter-revolution collapses

Burkina Faso's interim President Michel Kafando was formally reinstated Sept. 23, a week after he was ousted in a coup led by the presidential guard. The ceremony took place in the capital, Ouagadougou, in the presence of several West African leaders who helped mediate an end to the crisis. Coup leader Gen Gilbert Diendere admitted to local media that it had been "the biggest mistake... We knew the people were not in favour of it. That is why we have given up." (BBC News, Sept. 23) Among those involved in brokering a return to civilian rule was the Mogho Naba, traditional monarch of the Mossi ethnic group, whose kingdom dates to the 12th century. Baongo II has been king since 1982. The Mossi continue to have limited autonomy, although the authority of the Mogho Naba was significantly curtailed during the presidency of anti-imperialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara prior to his death in October 1987. (BBC News, Sept. 23) The Mogho Naba (also rendered Moro Naaba) is signatory to a manifesto issued by civil groups after last year's popular uprising calling for widespread social reforms with an emphasis on women's rights and reproductive freedom—including access to birth control and an end to child marriage. (Amnesty International, Sept. 24)

Peru: naked protesters storm congress

National Police troops used tear-gas and armored vehicles against marchers for abortion rights in Lima Aug. 13, who attempted to storm Peru's Congress building. Many of the hundreds of women at the protest were partially naked, with demands for reproductive freedom written on their torsos in red—symbolizing blood. Protesters were pressing for passage of a bill to remove penalties for abortion in the case of rape. A simialr measure was introduced to Congress last year, but failed to pass.