The experience is difficult: Step Into Our Shoes

Perspectives on abortion rights and access in Venezuela

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My name is Josefina*, I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and I am 26 years old. I’m a lawyer, activist at PLAFAM, and I was part of International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere’s Youth Network.

When I was 23, I experienced firsthand what it is to have an abortion, although in previous years I encountered this issue when a friend became pregnant when we were 18 and her family would not let her have an abortion. I had one, but my family still doesn’t know all the things I lived through during the process. I’m now married and expecting a baby.

What are the main barriers in access to abortion services you’ve seen in your country or community?

Beyond the legal barrier there’s the stigma that exists around abortion, especially when those who discriminate against women who had abortions, or choose this option, are health professionals. [Editor’s note: Abortion is legal only to save a woman’s life in Venezuela.] Another barrier is economic, usually this procedure is very expensive and very few women can afford it. It gets very difficult when you find out how much it will cost, and it’s at this point where many women look for “cheaper” ways, even if it represents a threat to their life.

Why should abortion be legal? What are the consequences of making it a crime? Why do you think it is a right?

Criminalizing abortion does not mean that people will stop doing to it, prohibiting abortion only leads to its clandestine practice without health controls or guarantee that a trained specialist provides it.

We all have the right to decide, there are no second-class citizens, and women are no less than anyone else for wanting to be able to decide about their bodies and lives. No one should force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy.

What is the role of men in the movement for access to safe and legal abortion?

I agree this is an issue that concerns everyone. Men can express their opinions; it would be interesting. They can provide adequate information, empower people and give support to women both at political and personal levels. Be active players like us. However, on the subject of the decision it is something that only women can make.

What is your message for policymakers regarding the right to abortion?

I have two messages. One for women who choose to have an abortion: You should choose the best method and the best person who can do it, keeping in mind that it’s necessary to acquire family planning services to prevent another unwanted pregnancy. Equally, we must be very patient because it is not easy to be in that situation. I lived that experience three years ago and almost died because of it, and even then many judged me and said I opted for the easy way. It is not easy to go to college and work without being able to ask for leave because basically what you did is not legal in your country. It is not easy being in that situation without being able to ask someone for help or support.

And for people in political positions: The experience is difficult. Step into our shoes.

* Using a pseudonym to protect the author’s confidentiality.