GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemalan lawmakers have increased prison sentences for women who have abortions, bucking a recent trend in Latin America toward expanding access to the procedures.
As some of Latin America’s largest countries — Mexico, Argentina, Colombia — have expanded abortion access in the past two years, there remain countries where conservative religious trends continue to hold sway.
Late Tuesday — International Women’s Day — Guatemala’s Congress passed a “Protection of Life and Family” law that also targeted the LGBTQ community.
On Wednesday, which Guatemala’s Congress declared “Life and Family Day,” President Alejandro Giammattei said in a speech at the National Palace, “This event is an invitation to unite as Guatemalans to protect life from conception until natural death.”
Guatemalan women convicted of terminating their pregnancies can now face sentences up to 10 years that before were a maximum of three. The Congress imposed even heavier penalties for doctors and others who assist women in ending pregnancies.
Abortions are legal only when the life of the mother is at risk.
Lawmakers backing the legislation said the law was necessary because “minority groups in society propose ways of thinking and practices that are incongruous with Christian morality.”
Lawmaker Vicenta Gerónimo, who voted against the legislation, said it violates human rights, especially of women in rural areas where there isn’t a government health infrastructure.
The legislation passed with 101 votes in favor and 8 against. Fifty-one lawmakers were not present.
Jordan Rodas, Guatemala’s elected human rights prosecutor, said Guatemala was regressing by limiting women’s rights at a time the world was expanding them. He added that those supporting sexual diversity are not seeking privileges, “but want to live free of stigma and discrimination.”
“The approval of this dangerous initiative represents a threat to the rights of women and LGBT people in the country,” said Cristian González of Human Rights Watch. He also said the legislation served as a distraction from President Giammattei’s systematic dismantling of the justice system.
Opposition lawmaker Samuel Pérez said it was approved by men unaffected by the issue of abortion.
Colombia expanded access to abortion last month when the Constitutional Court voted to legalize the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy. Prior to the ruling, Colombia allowed abortions only when a woman’s life was in danger, a fetus had malformations or the pregnancy resulted from rape.
In September, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that abortion was not a crime, that it was unconstitutional to punish abortion.
And in January of last year, a law went into effect in Argentina allowing elective abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy and beyond that in cases involving rape or risk to the woman’s health. It was all the more significant because Pope Francis hails from Argentina.
The Guatemala legislation also explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage — which was already effectively illegal — and banned schools from teaching anything that could “deviate (a child’s) identity according to their birth gender.”
Lawmaker Armando Castillo, an ally of Giammattei’s administration, defended the legislation, saying that the only thing it does is protect “heterosexual people who have no interest in diversity.”
But opposition lawmaker Lucrecia Hernández warned her colleagues that the “the law stigmatizes people, discriminates and foments intolerance and hate speech and crimes.”