Maddie Oatman

Maddie Oatman

Research Editor

Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. A proud Boulder native, she makes time for mountain climbing, stargazing, and telemark skiing.

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Meet the Family Behind Latin America's Version of Planned Parenthood

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 6:24 PM EST
A reproductive health class in Bogotá, Colombia.

People in the United States have been going to Planned Parenthood for nearly a century, ever since Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. But it wasn't until 1977, after the US had already celebrated Roe v. Wade, that Colombian women had any equivalent organization to turn to. That was the year Dr. Jorge Villarreal started Oriéntame, a women's reproductive health clinic now credited with inspiring more than 600 outposts across Latin America "and for reshaping abortion politics across the continent," writes Joshua Lang in a story about the Villarreal family, out today in California Sunday.

In the 1950s, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of Colombia's maternal deaths.

Jorge Villarreal Mejía graduated from medical school in 1952 and soon took the reigns of the obstetrics department at Colombia's national university. During that time, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of the country's maternal deaths. "Women in slum areas were putting the sonda (catheter) inside of them without any sonography," his daughter Cristina Villarreal told Lang. "They used ganchas de ropa (coat hangers), anything." When these women showed up at general hospitals, they were shamed and quickly given basic medical attention at most.

So in 1977, Jorge opened a stand-alone health clinic in Bogotá called Oriéntame. Abortions were illegal, so Oriéntame had to focus on helping women who were already suffering from bad abortion attempts, or "incomplete abortions." Colombians had to wait another thirty years before their mostly Catholic country legalized abortion, under pressure from a coalition that included Cristina Villarreal. (Abortion is now legal in Colombia when a mother's physical or emotional health is in danger.) In the meantime, Oriéntame continued its mission to heal and empower women, using a sliding-scale payment model in order to reach poorer clients. In 1994, Cristina assumed leadership of the organization, which had grown to include a second nonprofit to help doctors around Latin America open their own Oriéntame clinics.

Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction."

Lang's story, an eye-opening and educational read, details the Villarreals' persistence in the face of police and priests, health administration raids, legal battles, money troubles, and social stigma. Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, writes Lang, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction," making Oriéntame's success "all the more unlikely." Today, the organization continues to struggle for funding. But fortunately for the estimated 4.5 million women seeking abortions every year across Latin America, and countless others looking for reproductive guidance, Oriéntame's network has already laced together a much-needed safety net that will be difficult to undo.

US Police Brutality Is Bad. This Giant Western Country's Is Way Worse.

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 6:34 PM EST
Sao Paulo police officers confront student protesters during a strike in August.

The high-profile killings of figures like Ferguson, Missouri's Michael Brown have stirred a national conversation about police brutality as of late. But it turns out the Americas' second biggest economy struggles with this issue on a much greater scale: Brazil's police killed more than 11,000 civilians between 2008 and 2013; on average, a staggering six people every day. This jaw-dropping number was released today in a Brazilian Public Security Forum (BPSF) report which rounds up statistics illuminating the country's struggles with public safety. To put the figure in context, it took police in the United States 30 years to kill the same number of civilians, despite the fact that there are at least 50 percent more people in the US.

Sao Paulo in particular has seen an increase in civilian deaths at the hands of the authorities. Between January and September of 2014, officers killed 478 people during confrontations, twice as many victims as during that same period last year. The uptick parallels an increasingly lawless criminal culture, say authorities. "Rather than turn themselves in to the police, criminals prefer to open fire," Sao Paulo police department's Jose Vicente da Silva told the AP. "That is what is causing the increase."

"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more."

Many of Brazil's police killings happen in the predominately black favelas of Rio de Janeiro, where there's been a heightened military presence, in part to try and pacify the area for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Brazilian journalist Juliana Barbassa, who's writing a book on the issues feeding Brazil's massive national protests, described this tension when she spoke with my colleague Ian Gordon in July. When more police entered Rio's slums, "at the beginning there was this real hope that they could do something," Barbassa said; for one, break up the drug rings controlling the community. But then "you've got military police fully armed, in your community 24/7, regulating things like when you can have parties—it's not without its serious problems." Barbassa explained that the city has seen some "very ugly cases of abuse of power," including authorities torturing and killing civilians and then hiding the bodies. "To see these things happen, with this freshly trained, specifically chosen group of officers, really helped unravel a little bit the expectations and hopes that people had."

While the BPSF report paints a grim portrait of police use of force in Brazil, it also reveals how officers themselves suffer at the hands of the country's rampant violence. While fewer officers died on duty in 2013 than in 2012, many more were killed (from non-natural causes) on their off-hours: In 2013, 369 policemen perished while off-duty, compared to 191 just two years earlier. BPSF researchers note that it's tricky to pinpoint exactly why officers are being targeted outside of work, but in some parts of the country, killing a cop is a gang rite of passage.

"Unfortunately, we are a country where police kill more and die more," BPSF's researchers write. They later conclude: "Death should be understood as taboo, and not an acceptable outcome of security policy."

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