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While abortion restrictions spread across the U.S., access expands in Latin America

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

While abortion restrictions spread across the United States, abortion access has been expanding in Latin America. Some abortion rights advocates in the U.S. are now turning to the south for ideas and support. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: As an immigrant from Colombia to the United States, Paula Avila-Guillen has watched the two countries move further apart on abortion rights.

PAULA AVILA-GUILLEN: Right now, we are in very different paths.

MCCAMMON: Avila-Guillen is executive director of the Women's Equality Center in New York, which works on abortion rights across the Americas. She notes that over the past few years, her colleagues in Colombia, Argentina and Mexico have seen victories either via the courtroom or through legislation.

AVILA-GUILLEN: And in the United States, we are going backwards. So I think that there is a very crucial moment to learn from each other, to exchange ideas.

MCCAMMON: This week, abortion rights advocates from several Latin American countries and the U.S. met in Washington to do just that.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

MCCAMMON: With the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop, they gathered in D.C.'s Freedom Plaza, chanting and tossing green handkerchiefs into the air.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

MCCAMMON: The bandanas have become a symbol of reproductive rights in Latin America, a symbol they hope will spread across the U.S. as restrictions spread across many states. Meanwhile, Latin American anti-abortion rights activists, like Julia Regina de Cardenal, are drawing inspiration from last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision upending abortion rights.

JULIA REGINA DE CARDENAL: This has repercussion in the whole world.

MCCAMMON: Regina de Cardenal, who spoke by phone from El Salvador, leads a group affiliated with Human Life International, an organization based in the U.S. that promotes abortion restrictions around the world.

REGINA DE CARDENAL: For us, it was the best news that the United States finally got to tell their citizens that killing babies in the womb is not a human right.

MCCAMMON: For abortion rights supporters in Latin America, the goal is to expand access even in those countries where it's already legal. One idea, Avila-Guillen says, is to set up funds like those in the U.S. that help patients pay for things like travel and child care.

AVILA-GUILLEN: One of the challenges that we are facing is how we implement successfully these laws.

MCCAMMON: She says they're also working to strengthen networks that supply abortion pills across the region. Maria Antonieta Alcalde is director of the abortion rights group Ipas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

MARIA ANTONIETA ALCALDE: We have been working for more than a year, building those networks that are working from Mexico in Texas, but in other states. And we know that there are ways to put the supplies in the hands of women.

MCCAMMON: With a ruling in Texas expected any day that could curtail access to abortion pills, Latin American activists say they're preparing to work across borders to help patients in the U.S.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MENAHAN STREET BAND'S "SILKWORM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.