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Abortion rights at the Texas/Mexico border

Documentary focusing on three Latinx characters ‘on the divide’ regarding abortion



Shot in McAllen, Texas, the home of Whole Woman’s Health, the last open abortion clinic in the region, Leah Galant and Maya Cueva’s insightful and humane documentary ‘On the Divide’ chronicles the lives of three individuals who find themselves at the heart of the tensions surrounding abortion rights at the end of the Trump administration. 

The film is screening until 25 March at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. You can purchase a ticket to stream and watch it here.

Abortion has been one of the most contentious and fiercely fought social issues for decades, and recent laws in Texas have represented a major step back for women’s rights in the state. The Texas Heartbeat Act, enacted on 1 September 2021, makes abortion illegal once a foetal heartbeat can be detected, which may be as early as only six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, in one of the biggest blows dealt to abortion rights in recent years. The Heartbeat Act has compounded the obstacles faced by women when seeking safe and legal abortions, and public opinion remains as fiercely polarised as ever.

A similar trajectory can also be seen in Latin American countries, such as Honduras, where Congress moved to impose a virtually irreversible total ban on abortion in January 2021.

Meanwhile, in Chile, where abortion was partially legalised in 2017, the law has since been criticised by women’s rights groups as poorly implemented and ultimately too limited in its provision of rights and support, and in El Salvador the law still draws no distinction between intentional abortion and unintentional miscarriage, applying strict jail sentences to both. 

In this context, the documentary On the Divide focuses on three Latinx characters who truly exist ‘on the divide’ regarding the issue. Mercedes, a former gang member and born-again Christian ‘prayer warrior’ who was discouraged from an abortion in her teens and given support at a local Christian pregnancy centre, now spends her days praying with anti-abortion activists outside the abortion clinic a few blocks away.

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Meanwhile, Denisse, a young mother of four who never aborted, works as a volunteer at Whole Woman’s Health, giving support and comfort to the women who attend it, and Rey, a devout Catholic, spends his days working as a security guard outside of the clinic, frequently finding himself at the heart of the tensions that erupt there.

The documentary presents all perspectives in a humane and empathetic way, reflecting the immense ontological divides that surround the issue of abortion. Its main achievement, however, is the way in which it takes what is frequently presented by both sides as a black-and-white issue and reveals the reality to be far more complex in the way it affects and forms individual subjectivities.

Mercedes, for example, while a born-again Catholic, simultaneously takes birth control for the very same reasons many women are forced to seek abortions: her precarious social situation. Rey continues to support the clinic, not in spite of, but because of his fervent religious belief that all life is a gift from God. The result is a documentary that dismantles the dogmatic way in which discussions of abortion are often framed, and maintains a keen sense of the social and political context in which all of its characters find themselves.  

On the Divide is screening until 25 March at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. You can purchase a ticket to stream and watch it here.


Here, LAB contributors reflect on books, films, photography, music and artwork speaking up for social and environmental justice in Latin America.

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