Politics and Social Change Workshop presentation by Jocelyn Viterna, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University.
Recently, six Latin American nations have eliminated all legal exceptions to their already-strict anti-abortion laws. Yet despite passing increasing restrictions, only two of these six nations–El Salvador and Mexico–regularly send women to jail for committing abortion or abortion-related crimes. Why are new abortion laws enforced in some nations, but not in others? Through a comparison of El Salvador and Nicaragua, this talk investigates why the same antiabortion law, developed through a transnationally-linked pro-life movement, has strikingly different consequences. In El Salvador, women suspected of committing abortion-related "homicide" are sent to jail, often for up to 30 or 40 years, and often with little evidence than any crime has been committed. In contrast, Nicaraguan women are not prosecuted for abortion or abortion-related crimes. The conclusions build on existing theories of social mobilization, law and society, and the gendering of states.