17 th June 2008

From the Virgin: the call for safe abortion


Today the help telephone number was launched at the hill overlooking Quito. The night was short, everybody were busy with preparations till late. We had to get up early to finish the tasks and then we went to the Panecillo. Everyone was curious to see what the action might bring.

9 am: The day started off with a press symposium organized by the Coordinadora Juvenil por la Equiad de Genero (Coordinating Group of Youth for Gender Equity), which was attended by about 25 journalists from different print and radio publications. The aim of this forum was to outline the arguments for safe abortion without the discourse being shaped in contrast to the pro-life agenda, and to examine the ways in which the press could look critically at pro-life arguments and write articles reflecting the realities of abortion and the women who decide to have abortions. The symposium was a unique opportunity to specifically give journalists the tools to write fair and balanced articles on themes related to abortion and to critically examine the current debate (or lack thereof) around the issue.

The forum began with a panel discussion. The panelists were Fernando López (moderator), dean of Social Communications in the Central University of Ecuador, Cecilia Costa, of Women on Waves, who talked about the role of the press in the Portugal campaign and in civil society, Hernán Reyes, from the Andean University Simon Bolivar, talking about the influence of the mass media in the present day conservativism, Virginia Gomez, talking about the situation of abortion in the discussions of the rewriting of the Ecuadorean constitution, and finally Ana Vera of the Coordinadora Juvenil, who talked about the ways that women are organizing for abortion rights.

Following the panel discussion, the journalists were told that there was a surprise activity, and that they would have to take a bus to get there. They had no idea what was waiting for them. Upon boarding a chartered bus, they were told about an action to launch a new safe abortion hotline in Ecuador. To their surprise, they ended up high on the hillside overlooking Quito, at La Virgin del Panecillo, just in time for the banner action (see below).

Following the banner action the journalists returned to the hotel for questions and answers about the panel discussion, and about the hotline, this time with all the activists present.

12 noon: At about noon today, a banner was unfurled from the Virgin del Panecillo, a 41-meter statue of the Virgin on a strategic hilltop visible from most of Quito. The banner announced the launch of a hotline, created by Ecuadoran activists to provide information on how women can safely induce an abortion, should they choose to do so. This hotline will be available to women throughout Ecuador.

The 8 x 4.5 meter banner, reading "Aborto Seguro 099004545" (Safe Abortion + the hotline number), and a side banner reading "Tu decisión" (Your Decision) were held by a group of activists from the balcony of the statue, about 11m off the ground. The activists were from both the Coordinadora Juvenil por el Equidad de Género (Coordinating Group of Youth for Gender Equity) and Women on Waves.

The banners were able to hang for quite a while, since there were only two tourist police in the area, who, coincidentally, were being engaged in conversation by a very friendly tourist who was eager to practice her spanish and know all about Quito. They didn't seem to be paying the slightest attention to what was happening on the Virgin. Luckily, the busload of journalists (see above) just happened to show up in time to see the enormous banner unfold.

Eventually, someone alerted the police to the presence of the gigantic banner, and the police climbed up to the balcony to convince the activists to take it down. After a lengthy negotiation, the banner was taken down and the activists went down to the press caravan to do interviews. According to local activists, this was the first time a political group hung a banner from the Virgin.