The Politics of Reproduction

Academics have long been interested in transnational linkages among social movements.  Yet one of the world’s most successful transnational movements—the movement to protect fetal life from elective abortions—has received surprisingly little scholarly attention to date.  How did this movement begin? How has it spread across national borders?  And what new sociolegal practices have been institutionalized as a result?  Latin America proves an especially useful region for studying these questions, given that the movement has experienced heightened success in some nations (like El Salvador) and declining success in others (like Chile).  To explain these cross-national variations, Viterna is currently collecting archival records, launching public opinion surveys, and conducting in-depth interviews with Latin American doctors, activists, and politicians, some of whom identify as “pro-life” and others who identify as “pro-choice.”   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 fetal rights 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.