Abortion Politics In Latin America


Tuesday, October 12, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:20pm

For a recording of this event, please click here.

Argentina’s legalization of abortion on demand in 2020 was closely followed across Latin America. The role of religion in politics has changed dramatically in the region. On the one hand, societies gave grown more secular and the influence of the Catholic Church has waned; on the other hand, growing evangelical movements have given new life to social conservatism. How are the politics of abortion changing in twenty-first century Latin America? Is Argentina a pioneer—or an outlier?

Speakers: Jocelyn Viterna, Professor of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Harvard University; Camilla Reuterswärd, Research Fellow, University of Sussex; Cora Fernandez Anderson, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College
Moderated by: Steven Levitsky, Director, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; Professor of Government, Harvard University

Jocelyn Viterna is Professor of Sociology and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard University. Her research examines how social mobilization affects gender norms and practices in politics, in government institutions, in warfare, and in communities. Currently, Viterna is developing four research projects. The first project documents how activism surrounding women's sexual and reproductive rights in El Salvador has fundamentally transformed the Salvadoran judicial system, and more specifically, its processes for litigating gender. Building from this research, Viterna is developing and deploying training programs aimed at mitigating implicit bias and gender discrimination in Latin American courts. The second project examines how Salvadoran ob-gyns care for pregnant women and fetuses while negotiating the nation’s absolute abortion ban. This project also interrogates whether and how the ban is consequential for women’s and fetal health. The third project compares the discourse and tactics of 8 conservative and 8 progressive social movements in the U.S., investigating whether and how each camp strategically mobilizes notions of “gender.” Finally, Viterna is engaged in a pedagogical collaboration aimed at re-imagining how sociology programs should teach “classical” sociological theory in a way that is honest about our discipline’s intellectual roots, and their implications for present-day research. Viterna’s work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, Politics and Gender, and the Latin American Research Review, among other journals. Her book, Women in War: The Micro-processes of Mobilization in El Salvador (2013, Oxford University Press) won four distinguished book awards (the ESS Mirra Komarovsky award, the ASA Section on Sex and Gender award, the ASA Section on Political Sociology award, and the SSSP Global Division award) and one honorable mention (the ASA section on the Sociology of Development). It is currently being translated for publication in Spanish.

Camilla Reuterswärd is a Political Scientist focusing on gender and politics with emphasis on public policy in developing contexts. Her research is comparative, interdisciplinary and primarily qualitative. Focusing on three main areas—party politics, religious institutions, and social movements—it asks broad questions about when, why, and how policies that benefit marginalised groups, in particular women and LGBTQ+ communities, come about. More specifically, Camilla’s research has centred on the politics of abortion and same-sex policy in Latin America and the factors that facilitate or obstruct liberalising change, for which she has carried out field research in Uruguay and various Mexican states. Her current projects focus conservative mobilisation and the dynamics of religious institutions’ impact on gender policy, including sexual education and transgender legislation. She is also broadly interested in topics related to gender-based violence, especially femicide and the causes and consequences of LGBTQ discrimination. Her book project, Party Politics, the Catholic Church, and Social Movements: The Politics of Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage in Mexico, examines the puzzle of Mexico’s uneven subnational policy reforms in the area of moral gender policy. Departing from previous explanations of policy change, it suggests that two factors, party competition—the intensity of electoral competition and the types of competing parties—as well as the strength of the Catholic Church in a given context interact to create variation in policy outcome. Drawing on over one year of in-depth field research, the project contributes to literature in gender and politics, religion and politics, and party politics. Camilla received her PhD in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019. Before coming to IDS, she held a postdoctoral position in the SCRIPTS Cluster of Excellence at the Freie Universität zu Berlin. Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, Camilla holds a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies from the Department of Government, Uppsala University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Development and Change, Social Politics, and Latin American Politics and Society. She is also the author of a chapter in the edited volume Gender, Global Health and Violence (Rowman and Littlefield International 2019) as well as blog posts, policy reports, and articles in popular press focusing on gender politics and policy.

Cora Fernandez Anderson’s research explores social mobilization as a possible path towards social change. With this goal in mind she has researched human rights movements demanding justice for human rights abuses as well as reproductive rights movements and their struggle to decriminalize abortion in the Southern Cone. She has published her work in the Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, and Politics, Groups and Identities and NACLA. Her book Fighting for Abortion Rights in Latin America: Social Movements, State Allies and Institutions (Routledge 2020) explores abortion reform in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. It focuses on the role alliances between civil society actors and sympathetic allies in government have played in the struggle for the legalization of abortion, and the conditions that have allowed or prevented these collaborations from happening. Professor Fernandez Anderson is Mount Holyoke's advisor for the Five College Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Certificate Program. She regularly teaches Introduction to Comparative Politics, Latin American Politics, Theories of Social Movements, Human rights in Latin America, The Politics of Abortion in the Americas, and Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Latin America.

Steven Levitsky is the Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. As the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of Government, his research focuses on democratization, authoritarianism, political parties, and weak and informal institutions. He is author (with Daniel Ziblatt) of How Democracies Die (Crown, 2018), a New York Times Best-Seller that has been published in 25 languages, Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War (with Lucan Way) (Cambridge, 2010), and Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2003), and co-editor of Informal Institutions and Democracy in Latin America (with Gretchen Helmke) and The Resurgence of the Latin American Left (with Kenneth Roberts). He has written frequently for the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Vox, The New Republic, The Monkey Cage, La República (Peru) and Folha de São Paulo (Brazil). He is currently writing a book (with Lucan Way) on the durability of revolutionary regimes. Levitsky received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Presented in collaboration with Weatherhead Center for International Affairs