The assault of a 13-year-old girl in Venezuela and the arrest of her mother and a teacher who helped her end the pregnancy have forced a national debate about legalizing abortion.
MÉRIDA, Venezuela — She wore a ponytail and a red T-shirt, the words “Glitter Girl” sketched across the front.
Gripping her mother’s hand, she spoke softly, describing how she had been forced out of school by Venezuela’s economic crisis, and then was raped at least six times by a neighborhood predator who threatened to harm her family if she spoke out. At just 13, she became pregnant.
With her mother, she sought out a doctor, who told her the pregnancy endangered her life, and then a former teacher, who provided pills that induced an abortion.
But ending a pregnancy is illegal in almost all circumstances in Venezuela. And now the girl was speaking up, she said, because her teacher, Vannesa Rosales, was in jail, facing more than a decade in prison for helping her end a pregnancy — while the accused rapist remained free.
local and international press earlier this year, has become a point of outrage for women’s rights activists, who say it demonstrates the way the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis has stripped away protections for young women and girls. (The Times is not identifying the girl because she is a minor.)
The country’s decline, presided over by President Nicolás Maduro and exacerbated by U.S. sanctions, has crippled schools, shuttered community programs, sent millions of parents abroad and eviscerated the justice system, leaving many vulnerable to violent actors who flourish amid impunity.
But the girl’s assault, and Ms. Rosales’s arrest, has also become a rallying cry for activists who say it is time for Venezuela to have a serious discussion about further legalizing abortion, an issue, they argue, that is now more important than ever.
at least open to a discussion on the issue.
The country’s penal code, which dates back to the 1800s, criminalizes abortion in nearly all cases, with punishments for pregnant women lasting six months to two years and one to nearly three years for abortion providers.
An exception allows doctors to perform abortions “to save the life” of a pregnant woman.
But to obtain a legal abortion, a girl or woman must first find a doctor who will diagnose her with a specific life-threatening condition, said Dr. Jairo Fuenmayor, president of the country’s gynecologic society, and then have her case reviewed before a hospital ethics board.
The process is “cumbersome,” he said, and there are “very few” women who go through it.
The 13-year-old girl may have been eligible for a rare legal abortion, but the process is so infrequently publicized, and there so few doctors who will grant one, that neither she nor her mother knew they could seek one out.
Some women believe that simply raising the issue with a doctor will land them in the hands of the police.
legalize abortion, elevating a discussion about the issue in a region that has long had some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.
“We can ride the wave of the triumph in Argentina,” said Gioconda Espina, a longtime Venezuelan women’s rights activist.
Legalization, however, is far from imminent.
Venezuela is a deeply Catholic country, and many on both sides of the political aisle reject the idea of ending a pregnancy, even amid a crisis.
“Abortion is something that people naturally or instinctively reject,” said Christine de Vollmer, a Venezuelan activist who opposes the procedure. Venezuela may be “chaotic,” she said, but, “I don’t think the idea will catch.”
Hugo Chávez, who began the country’s socialist-inspired revolution in 1999, never took a strong position on abortion, but often asked feminist activists — many of whom supported abortion rights and his cause — to put his larger political movement ahead of their own demands.
sometimes disappeared for months or years in the Venezuelan justice system, and she worried that her partner was about to do the same.
Ms. Rosales’s lawyer, Venus Faddoul, exited the courthouse. No hearing today, she said. And it would probably be weeks before a judge took up the case.
Ms. Escobar collapsed, consumed by anger and anxiety. Soon, she was shaking violently and struggling to breathe.
“We are powerless,” she cried.
internet outrage that Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, took to Twitter to clarify that he had issued an arrest warrant for the accused rapist.
The authorities in Mérida soon released Ms. Rosales to await trial under house arrest.
Abortion rights activists last month met for hours with Mr. Rodríguez, the National Assembly president, where they proposed a change to the penal code, among other ideas.
The country’s influential association of Catholic bishops responded with a letter imploring the country to stick with the status quo.
Powerful international organizations, the association said, were trying to legalize abortion “by appealing to fake concepts of modernity, inventing ‘new human rights,’ and justifying policies that go against God’s designs.”
Ms. Rosales remains in legal limbo. Six months after her arrest, she has yet to have her first day in court. The accused person is still free.
“This goes beyond being a negligent state,” she said. “This is a state that is actively working against women.”
WASHINGTON — As many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States were given an 18-month reprieve on Monday from the threat of being deported, as the Biden administration sought to highlight how dangerous that country has become under President Nicolás Maduro.
The immigrants also will be allowed to work legally in the United States as part of the temporary protective status the administration issued as it considers the next steps in a yearslong American pressure campaign to force Mr. Maduro from power.
“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement. “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”
Venezuela is mired in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises under Mr. Maduro, who, through a mix of corruption and neglect, oversaw the decay of the country’s oil infrastructure that had propped up its economy. The United Nations has estimated that up to 94 percent of Venezuela’s population lives in poverty, with millions of people bereft of regular access to water, food and medicine.
Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and former head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate leader.
But one of the officials who briefed reporters on Monday on condition that he not be identified said the Biden administration was reviewing whether to lift a raft of economic sanctions that experts believe have cost Venezuela’s government has much as $31 billion since 2017.
The official said that review would assess whether the economic pressure exacted against Mr. Maduro and his government was worth the risk of exacerbating the dire living conditions for Venezuelans.
The new protections were welcomed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress who had appeared divided on the approach to immigration policy under Mr. Trump.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he supported the protections, although “it is critical that we continue working with our democratic allies to secure a Venezuela free from tyranny and ensure this temporary status in the U.S. does not become a permanent one.”
Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, both Democrats, noted that earlier efforts to allow Venezuelan immigrants to remain in the United States were blocked by the former president’s supporters in Congress.
“For years, the world watched in horror as man-made humanitarian and political crises turned Venezuela into a failed state,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Despite these disastrous and dangerous conditions, Venezuelans were still forcibly deported back to their country by the Trump administration.”
federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration’s argument that immigrants from places like El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan, which were recovering from disasters or political turmoil, no longer needed safe haven in the United States.
Monday’s announcement signaled that the Biden administration was likely to continue at least some of the protections.
Roberto Marrero, a Venezuelan opposition leader who moved to Florida after spending a year and a half in jail in Venezuela, called Monday’s decision a “bittersweet victory.”
“It gives us protection,” he said, “but also reminds us that we’re here because there’s a dictatorship in our country.”
Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Bogotá, Colombia.