The Politics of Reproduction

While the feminist revolution is stalled in the United States, in Latin America a counter-revolutionary backlash has produced new laws that constitutionalize fetal personhood, outlaw therapeutic abortions, and criminalize obstetric emergencies as murder. In El Salvador, the leading case of this backslide, women are currently serving thirty- and forty-year prison sentences for the “homicide” of their stillborn children. Viterna’s next book, Backslide, explains this counter-revolution as a function of transnational processes influencing domestic political contestation, and demonstrates how the processes at work in El Salvador mimic similar processes unfolding around the world, including in the United States. This new project extends Viterna’s earlier work with Katy Fallon on gender, democracy, and formal politics into a new domain—a domain where the way in which governments encode gender and sexuality into core legislation has profound consequences for state institutions, civil society and women’s lives.



2019    Women’s Rights, Fetal Rights: The New Politics of Reproduction in Latin America.  [Proposal available]. Oxford University Press [under advance contract].


2018    Viterna, Jocelyn, Jose Santos Guardado Bautista, Silvia Juárez Barrios, and Alba Evelyn Cortez.  Governance and the Reversal of Women’s Rights: The Case of Abortion in El Salvador.” Chapter in the forthcoming United Nations University volume Gender and Development, edited by Jean-Phillipe Plautteau, Siwan Anderson, and Lori Beaman.

An earlier version of this paper was published as WIDER Working Paper 2017/187, located here.


2017    Reifenberg, Natasha and Jocelyn Viterna. “Las Otras Beatrices.” El Faro (Salvadoran Newspaper). November 10. 


2017    Editorial, Los Angeles Times. “The Real Reason El Salvador Jails Women for Stillbirths? It’s  Called Moral Panic.”  July 30.


2017    Viterna, Jocelyn and Jose Santos Guardado Bautista. “Pregnancy and the 40-year Prison Sentence:  How “Abortion is Murder” Became Institutionalized in the Salvadoran Judicial System.” The Health and Human Rights Journal. 19 (1): 81-93.  


2017    Viterna, Jocelyn and Natasha Reifenberg.  La politica es complicada; la ciencia es concluyente: El aborto terapeutico salva la vida de las mujeres. David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.


2016    Viterna, Jocelyn. “Zika and Abortion: Reproductive Justice in El Salvador.” Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Vol XV, No. 3 (Spring 2016): 254-27

Translated and reprinted as La condena de la embarazada pobre in the Salvadoran newspaper, El Faro, on July 28, 2016.  


2014    Viterna, Jocelyn. “Conceiving while Poor; Imprisoned for Murder” NACLA Report on the Americas.  Fall. 47(3). Pp. 34-37.

Reprinted December 2014 as “El Salvador Imprisons 17 Women Who Lost Their Newborns for Murder” on the Global Voices website.  

2014    Viterna, Jocelyn. “Radical or Righteous?  Using Gender to Shape Public Perceptions of Political Violence.”  Pp. 189-216 in Dynamics of Political Violence: A Process-Oriented Perspective on Radicalization and the Escalation of Political Conflict, edited by Lorenzo Bosi, Chares Demetriou, and Stefan Malthaner. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing.


2014    Viterna, Jocelyn and Jose Santos Guardado Bautista. “Principios Legales vs. Discriminación de Género.” El Faro. November 17.  


2014    Viterna, Jocelyn and Jose Santos Guardado Bautista. “Independent Analysis of Systematic Gender Discrimination in the El Salvador Judicial Process.”  [White Paper.] [ENGLISH] [SPANISH]


2012    Viterna, Jocelyn. “The Left and ‘Life’:  The Politics of Abortion in El Salvador.”  Politics and Gender 8 (2): 248-254.





2012    Fallon, Kathleen M., Liam Swiss, and Jocelyn Viterna. “Resolving the Democracy Paradox:  Democratization and Women’s Legislative Representation in Developing Nations, 1975-2009.” American Sociological Review 77 (3): 380-408.


2008    Viterna, Jocelyn and Kathleen M. Fallon. “Democratization, Women’s Movements, and Gender-Equitable States: A Framework for Comparison.” American Sociological Review 73 (4): 668-689.


2008    Viterna, Jocelyn, Kathleen M. Fallon, and Jason Beckfield.  “How Development Matters:  A Research Note on the Relationship between Development, Democracy, and Women's Political Representation.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 49 (6): 455-477.