Guatemala: No to the Law 5272 Initiative!
In April 2017 a group of conservative Guatemalan lawmakers presented an initiative to pass the Law on Life and Family Protection (Law 5272), which proposes that the State of Guatemala completely criminalize abortion and same-sex marriage. The initiative was promoted by the right-wing Vision with Values (Visión con Valores– VIVA) party and supported with 30,000 signatures. The initiative seeks to increase jail time for women that have an abortion from 3 to 10 years, and would also expressly prohibit any form of marriage between members of the LBGTIQ+ community, which has never been part of any national legislation.
To learn more about this proposed legislation and its implications, we spoke with Kendra Avilés, activist and member of the Red IncideJoven (Youth Impact Network) in Guatemala, who told us that there are “key issues in terms of sexual and reproductive rights in this initiative. Family is seen from a very conservative perspective,” and the proposed legislation emphasizes that “the family should be mom, dad and children, diverse families and single-parent led households don’t count. Parents are the only ones that can teach their children about sexuality, and the issue of marriage between members of the LGBTIQ+ community clearly discriminates against sexual diversity. Criminalizing abortion is a violation of women’s bodily autonomy, with legal restrictions that will increase the punishment by double or triple the current penalties” she affirms.
Another issue of great importance to the group is discrimination and criminalization of the work of those that defend sexual and reproductive rights, “the initiative contains an article that says that speaking in public or private about abortion is prohibited and there are legal consequences for doing so. This is extremely grave in terms of human rights,” added Kendra.
For Kendra, it is frustrating that in the 21stcentury there are threats against people’s rights, especially women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people. For this reason, IncideJovenhas worked to advocate with lawmakers and has promoted campaigns in the streets, media and social networks throughout the past year so that people know about these political and fundamentalist threats to their human rights.
In 2017, the struggle to advocate and change the initiative to pass Law 5272 was challenging and intense for IncideJoven and other organizations. “The role of IncideJoven was very active. The idea was to change the approval, and we achieved that. On June 7, the Legislative Commission released a favorable approval to make modifications that would change the Law 5272 initiative. With these modifications the initiative lost strength and that gave us hope,” added the activist.
In the last weeks of June, IncideJoven saw their fruits of their efforts, but the group is conscious of the fact that the work must continue and they cannot yet claim victory. Kendra shared that “on June 26 IncideJoven filed an injunction before the Constitutional Court against the Legislative Commission and against the Congress of the Republic for approving proposed legislation that is regressive and unconstitutional. The legal review process is extremely long, but we are hopeful. It’s an important step. What would come next is they would give us a provisional injunction, which would suspend the initiative temporarily until a sentence was reached that could give us a permanent injunction, by saying that the law is not viable and thereby rectify the process.”
Divisions Among Guatemalans Regarding the Law
For IncideJoven, the purpose of this proposed legislation is to single out, stigmatize and create fear of so-called “minorities” by the conservatives. It is positive that not everyone is in favor of this initiative, despite the campaigns by the Evangelical church to persuade the population.
People are divided in Guatemala, one side is very conservative and religious, especially in opposition to abortion or the simple fact that there are people that speak out in favor of abortion, and to prevent those perspectives they think that punishments need to be increased. The sector that is most aligned with the initiative does not want to accept that there is a diversity of people, and diverse types of families. There are also other opinions that say that the law is exaggerated and there are others that say that it doesn’t bother them, they don’t care. The Evangelicals have imposed themselves on the other religions. The Evangelical and Catholic churches in Guatemala come together specifically on the issue of abortion. This does not mean that the entire Catholic population is against it, but there is a lot of division in that sense,” notes Kendra.
Kendra also explained the role that corruption plays with the more conservative political parties with regard to decisions about women’s bodies and the LGBTIQ+ community. “Guatemala is confronting a very complex political situation just like the other countries in Central America, in political terms and around corruption. Unfortunately, the people in government are from the ultra-conservative right. It has been easier for these groups to gain power in key government institutions responsible for human rights, and that’s what they’re doing right now,” sustains this member of IncideJoven.
What’s Next After the Injunction?
Kendra notes that IncideJoven will continue fighting to completely nullify this initiative: “After we receive the notice about the injunction that we filed, there will be a few days left to continue filing evidence about why this law should not be passed. If the court fulfills the steps it could last all of this month or it could take even longer. The end, or the final step, is the sentence, and that they give us a favorable sentence that will eliminate the initiative completely,” added Kendra. To date, the group has not received any notification.