Guatemala's Congress is trying to pass a bill to "protect family and life," which in reality would ban abortion, same-sex marriage and sex education, all under the banner of 'freedom of consciousness.'
Conservative sectors of Guatemalan society feel threatened by the 'gender ideology' gathering strength across Latin America, and are proposing a bill that will 'protect' them against the movement.
The 5272 legal initiative was promoted in 2017 by the National Evangelical Coordinator, supported by right-wing conservative organizations and presented by lawmakers Linares Beltranena and Anibal Rojas, from the Vision With Values Party (VIVA). Rojas also heads the congressional Women Commission, despite being male.
The bill was due to be discussed at the congress on Wednesday, but the session was suspended due to lack of quorum and is expected to be rescheduled for next week.
The debate about the law restarted after feminist and human rights groups promoted their own 'Gender Equality Bill' (5393), which aims to allow transgender people to be legally registered under the gender of their preference.
If the law passes its third and last discussion, it will go to the hands of President Jimmy Morales for its final approval.
Currently, Guatemalan law only allows abortion in cases in which the life of the mother is at risk. The new bill would make this process even more difficult: anyone who wants an abortion must first exhaust every other medical alternative and be availed by two specialists.
Having an abortion would be punished with sentences between five and ten years in prison, while those who perform it could face up to 50 years. Also, having a spontaneous or accidental abortion would face two to four years in prison.
Opponents of the law say this would only push more people into clandestine abortions, putting lives at risk.
Hoy el Congreso pretendía aprobar ley que atenta contra libertad y la vida de las mujeres. Promover cárcel contra quien por cualquier razón necesite hacerse un aborto o sufra emergencia obstétrica, contra medicxs y quien promueva medios para la realización del aborto #NoALa5272 pic.twitter.com/wSTYgmwrEC— PrensaComunitaria (@PrensaComunitar) 29 de agosto de 2018
Regarding sexual education, article 18 states that every individual has the right to '"freedom of consciousness and expression," meaning that no one should be forced to "accept sexual diversity as normal."
Also, article 2 defines sexual diversity as "the set of ideas, tendencies and practices by which society groups adopt a sexual conduct different to heterosexuality and incompatible with the biological and genetical aspects of the human being."
Guatemalan law doesn't explicitly allow same-sex marriage, but the bill would define family as the union of a "father, mother and the children under their tutorship," de facto prohibiting any other formula.
Sectors of the right and conservative groups are calling for a march on September 2, titled 'Guatemala for Life and Family,' to demand approval of the bill. It's being supported by the episcopal conference and companies such as the San Martin Bakeries chain. The bakery is owned by Jose Andres Castillo Arenales, son of Ricardo Castillo Sinibaldi, presidential candidate for the Patriot Party in 2007 and one of incumbent President Jimmy Morales' advisers in 2015.
Lawyer and evangelical pastor Elvis Molina, a fierce opponent of gender equality and women's right to decide, is also supporting the initiative, but says the march is unnecessary because the gender equality bill is "dying out."
Several human rights organizations have rejected the bill, arguing it will prevent future generations from accessing basic and vital information on sexuality and gender issues.
The human rights attorney’s office issued a statement citing international standards and conventions, and recommending the government "avoid passing laws that attempt against individuals' freedoms."
Kendra Aviles, from Incide Joven, said the law would affect all Guatemalans and not just a specific group, besides being promoted under "moral and religious arguments."