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Abortion Legalization March in Chile. Photo: Marcial Godoy-Anativia
Abortion Legalization March in Chile. Photo: Marcial Godoy-Anativia

Bodies Unveiled: Biopolitics and Theology in Contemporary Chile

Democracy is, according to its ideal, a fatherless society —Hans Kelsen

In this essay, I reflect on the implications of material and symbolic views on religion, sex, gender, and politics from a feminist, Latin American perspective, with a particular focus on contemporary Chile [1]. I advance the idea that theology as a form of ideology. I make distinctions between the church and religiosity, understanding the church to be a heterogeneous, “worldly” institution shaped by a local history and in close relation to the gender/sex system. The histories of churches often show a dialectic that results from ideological tensions and conflicts with the worldly formations of gender/sex. Liberation Theology and Feminist Theologies stand as expressions of a religious palimpsest comprised of the communities and sensibilities of the XX and XXI Centuries.

In this essay I use the term Family Devotion[2] to reference the heteronormative, naturalized, and essentialized form of the Family, particularly idealized in post-dictatorial Chile (Oyarzún, 2000). It does not refer to a concrete formation; it is rather a theological “ideologeme.” In Latin America, Family Devotion defies the nation-state’s secularizing policies because the main arena of ideological tensions is not within the Church, but around the “worldly,” material, and political structure of the Church (Dussel 1977). Tense relations between Church and State have characterized Chilean and Latin American history from the beginnings of our republican life (Maza 1995, Monsiváis, 1997).

“Religiosity” as a concept is more elusive than “Church” and it has a wider extension as it evokes both orthodox and unorthodox beliefs, indigenous and colonial imaginaries (Oyarzún, 2000). Religiosity points to inscrutable—even indescribable—limits, inasmuch as they supposedly encompass human relations with the unknown. From the vantage point of “religiosity,” the emphasis is not on the institutional forms that human communities have developed in attempting to channel such immaterial bonds (the Church): “All finite things are expressions of that Infinite thing we call Religion” (Dussel, 1977).

From a gender perspective, our discussion posits two historical moments that reveal the secular strategies of the “worldly Church”:

1. Liberation Theology in the 60s and 70s and the persecution of clerics by Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Under the Pinochet dictatorship, clerical and secular leaders who defended human rights suffered mass persecution. Abortion, which was legal from the 30s to the 80s, is re-penalized and Family Devotion strategies intensify. With the disappearance of political prisoners, body politics regress to gallows’ strategies.

2. Neoliberal Theology of “Fundamental Morals” of the 1990s and 2000s. The Church conceives the market as a major “materialist” force that needs to be contained by the “spiritual family.” The crisis of human rights in State Terrorism gives way to an “illness of the spirit.” Abortion, divorce, and civil unions are perceived as symptoms of that lack of morality—“democracy’s evils” that only Family Devotion can prevent. This entails consolidating the dictatorial repression of civil rights related to sexual and reproductive rights, as well as restricting human rights to “family units” rather than to individuals. Admittedly, the Church lost real “worldly” power to the market, but reaffirmed its defense of Fundamental Values in a time of supposedly deep “Moral Crisis.” Women (reduced to reproduction) as well as youth and homosexuals become scapegoats of this fundamentalist morality.

The Religious Aura of Politics

Patriarchy—as well as colonial domination—has both material and imaginary textures, affecting both public and private life. Due to the interconnected nature of sex, gender, class, and racial topographies, “domestic enemies” are threaded across a mobile map of public and private relations. Sex and gender are enacted in public and domestic spaces as norms, symbols, and values; they are incarnated in concrete bodies and relations. Their manifestations are subject to particular situations of poverty and displacement, exposure to injury, violence, and disappearance. Norms or devotions are not only reflections of power; they demonstrate concrete ways in which power operates.

Most feminist theories engage both material and symbolic grids, bodies and discourse. Works by Christine Delphy, Nancy Fraser, or Rosemary Hennessy stand as key examples. Judith Butler’s conception is poignant: “To say that gender is performative is to say that it is a certain kind of enactment; the ‘appearance’ of gender is often mistaken as a sign of its internal or inherent truth; gender is prompted by obligatory norms to be one gender or the other (usually within a strictly binary frame), and the reproduction of gender is thus always a negotiation with power” (Butler, 2009). Gayle Rubin showed to what extent woman becomes that “vile and precious merchandise,” an object of a vicious cycle of structural male domination that she called, after Levi-Strauss, “the traffic of women” (Rubin, 1986). In this vein, woman is conceived as precious object exchanged between men, a situation deeply ingrained in human civilization. Yet, until Joan Scott’s contributions, no concrete historical analysis allowed us to determine under what particular conditions woman is turned into that objectified fetish, whether in the form of gift or, as Rubin puts it, in the form of Playboy Bunnies. Materialist feminists have since explored the hidden relations of capital to concrete, historical forms of patriarchy. Beyond determining the religious or secular implications of politics, the question is not whether all politics are veiled theological concepts, but how to develop methods to unveil those hidden operations of power. Politics deploys religious and secular mechanisms to reproduce itself (Delphy, 1996). [3] How a particular theory perceives the relationship between public and private spheres of human existence in political terms is central to feminist epistemologies. Does fetishism, as religious illusion, apply only to the public spheres or to both private and public life? It is the task of feminism to unveil the symbolic production inside the family, where God himself occupies the function of the Father, as “fatherless” social relations are not fully embedded in the ideal of colonial nation-states.

Family Devotion is enacted as a host of illusions projected onto psycho-social spheres. Critical analysis can help unveil their phantom-like projections by situating their projectors and producers, and the bodies and subjectivities performing in those scenes. Those illusions not only mask the tragic traffic and disappearance of women in, for example, Alto Hospicio or Ciudad Juárez. They also map the bodies of women with their excesses, mutilations, and fragments, as we shall see in the case of penalizing abortion. Mapping that genealogy is crucial in order to understand bio-power as acts of exchange, production, and consumption.

Public and Private Domains

Insofar as it mitigates human fear of the vicissitudes of life, the function of religion to console humans restores to them what science cannot, mainly, the protection and naiveté of early childhood. In formulating prescriptions, norms, prohibitions, and restrictions, religion’s forms of consolation are performed and negotiated in both private and public spheres. Feminists will insist that the etymology of the word “domain,” as it intricately links the term domestic to domination, suggests a political relation between private and public spheres defined by political power. Only “protected,” “fathered, “and authoritarian “democracies” were fostered in colonial nation-states. Colonialism monopolizes concrete kinship relations with essentialist views of the (only) Father, the secular nation-state. State terrorism in the Southern Cone in the 1970s not only consecrated an Absolute God, but an Absolute Father as well. The familiar invocation of Pinochet as Tata by his supporters expresses that notorious fatherly figure (Oyarzún, 2000), showing that the link between State and civil society must be tattooed with a religious conception of the father. Society adheres to Family Devotion in the ideologeme of the “shepherd–flock game.” The action is neocolonial inasmuch as Tata performs as Father only to those who think and act like him. Gallows’ body politics were set in motion for dissenters, culminating in sexual torture for men and women.

The nation-state, divided according to the friend-enemy logic, a symbolic and physical war machine, offered no room for distinguishing political adversaries from enemies. The theological operation of politics involved a hybrid movement consolidating patriarchy as a double figure: a militarized and reproductive fetishism of power. The “holy” connection between God and the Father served as a particular form of engendering power in body politics, because the Dictator’s aura irradiated not only over the military, but particularly over the Family, his flock, and women’s reproductive bodies. The reproductive functions of the womb became directly annexed to the Father State, so that, not surprisingly, after having approved abortion laws in the 1930s in Chile in the secularized context of the welfare state, those laws were abolished under the dictatorship at the same time that the religious conception of the Family was consolidated. Family Devotion reconverted Chilean secularized society of the 1930s and 1960s into a militarized form of patriarchy, where the soldier could eventually be consecrated as Woman insofar as she becomes the mother of military men par excellence (Oyarzún, 2000).

Between the 30s and the 60s, the modern family coincided with secularized reproduction as women gained citizenship in the Republic. The State Terrorism of the 1970s usurped reproductive rights penalizing abortion, thus reinstituting gallows’ politics. Neoliberalism was instrumental in this process in Chile, where dictatorial means were utilized to impose hypermarket policies, leading to an upsurge of gallows’ strategies. Today, rebutting post-dictatorial, neoliberal body politics implies at the same time unmasking Family Devotion, whose main objective is normalizing women’s bodies as reproductive objects in opposition to more pragmatic neoliberal “needs” to incorporate women into the workforce under increasingly exploitative labor codes, which State policies have refused to regulate.

Abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and prostitution constitute Gordian knots in today’s theological discourse, challenging us to rethink the uses and abuses of bodies as stratagems of theological power in Neoliberal Chilean politics. The aftermath of gallows’ policies in the 1990s left a good number of Chileans deeply committed to a post-dictatorship body politics for subaltern groups. Demonization, which obscures processes of theological devotion, afflicts the bodies of women as well as transgender, transsexual, homosexual, queer and other non-normative subjects of desire.

For many theologians today, Western taboos that forbade women “to speak to God directly” for thousands of years, are no longer deemed universal. On the contrary, they are prohibitions whose structural implications are historical, attaining specific meaning for modern societies. My reading here is grounded in the distinctions between “visible” and “invisible” Church, and between “material” and “symbolic” bodies, categories that shape fierce debates across our imagined communities in discussions about sexuality and bio-politics. Also, those distinctions challenge our reconstruction of new socio-cultural scenarios, for they make it possible to express, in spirit and matter, in body and soul, emergent and transient identities. As in many all other post-dictatorial governments, religious diversity, symbolic registers of the flesh, civil, sexual, and reproductive bodies, as well as the rights of non-reproductive bodies, were considered “difficult issues” during the first term of Chile’s first woman president, Michelle Bachelet. As such, many of those “difficult issues” were not brought up in public debates.

It will be up to feminist critiques to unveil that behind the demonization of sex and gender lay the abject symbolic and material operations of population discipline, capital production, and surplus value (Rubin, 1986). Doubly repressed as a sex and as an invisible source of socially useless private energy, woman and reproductive sexuality are conceived as re-production, a secondary, subordinate form of “production.” Binary oppositions portray women's labor as natural and masculine activities as civilized, while at the same time, excluding pleasure from the woman’s body by separating and ideologically enlarging the womb until that body fragment stands as metonymy of her entire self.

Abortion and Gallows’ Theological Politics

Gallows’ strategies are conceived as mere symptoms of a higher Body: God’s, the Father’s, Absolute Sovereign reincarnated. Bodies are de-subjectified as vassals, as infinitely small parts of a higher, truer Cosmic Organism. God’s marks manifest as theological inscriptions on the vassal’s bodily parts, a proof of the Father’s solemn capacity to imprint His infinite power to control the lower, concrete, supposedly inferior, human bodies. In this sense, bodily subjection to anatomic power have a pre-modern genealogy in witch hunts, public corporal punishments, hangings, and body burnings. The difference between gallows’ strategies and more “pre-modern” forms of body politics lies in the ability to veil the bodies upon which physical power has been exerted, according to a “framework of political rationality.” Foucault named this rationality “biopolitics” by which he meant “the attempt, starting from the eighteenth century, to rationalize the problems posed to governmental practice by phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings forming a population: health, hygiene, birth rate, life expectancy, race…” For Foucault, “these problems were inseparable from the framework of political rationality within which they appeared and took on their intensity” (Foucault, 2008, 317).

Medieval and colonial gallows’ tactics rarely hid the objects of physical punishment. On the contrary, bodies and body parts would be publicly displayed for everyone to share in public spectacles of domination. Here, God, the Sovereign, became gloriously incarnated and made visible in every carnival festivity of burning, hanging, or decapitation ceremonies.

Today, God-the-Father’s imprints on the vassal’s bodies are well hidden, veiled in the darkness of prison chambers, insane asylums, homes, or correction schools; minutely administered according to technologies and specific rules. In Chile, the uterus became penalized by the criminalization of abortion before woman was even considered a subject of suffragist politics. The effects on women of such devotion are made invisible: domestic gender violence, deaths in illegal abortion clinics, eating disorders, and substance or pharmaceutical dependencies. In daily life, the very occlusion of these effects is legally disguised as penal law and/or as preacher’s morality.

Allowed in Chile by the Code of Health between 1931 and 1989, abortion was declared illegal in Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution, as Woman became subordinated to the “fetus in gestation.” From the register of private rights, nullified in the dictatorial period, a new territory for negotiating identity and citizenship appears today. In the 60s and 80s, in the midst of dictatorial terror, the public voices became concerned with matters of everyday life. New body politics were generated, as the polis was subverted from the “inside,” from the very frames of one’s bed, the kitchen, or the home: “La democracia va si la mujer está” (democracy moves forward if woman is there), read the anti-dictatorship feminist slogan in the early 1980s.

During the Chilean Dictatorship, both the Church’s “worldly” and spiritual realms stood in defense of human rights in the context of Liberation Theology. In the 90s, however, civil rights disappeared behind the renewed defense of the Womb. Imperatives toward Family Devotion have increased in the same proportion that monogamy and the nuclear family have decreased. A 1992 bishops’ conference in Chiapas restricted on a continental scale civil rights to the rights of the “entire family unit.” In the same year, an “alarmed” Chilean Council of Bishops proclaimed a national policy of “Moral Crisis” on two accounts: first, the materialistic effects of the market economy were ostensibly undermining spirituality and Christian morality; and second, Neoliberalism endangered the traditional, nuclear family (Brito, 1997). The consecrated family’s imaginary was thus de-subjectified and sublimated, becoming supposedly incompatible with material life. Because of market fundamentalism, Family Devotion—the Bishops’ document affirmed—was perceived by the Church to be the only “moral bulwark” against market and secular hegemony—and against the growing participation of women in the labor force, as well. Adherence to theological politics in the form of family religiosity aimed to counterbalance hegemonic Catholic entrepreneurs’ veiled choice in favor of market fundamentalism. The main protagonists of this anti-neoliberal religiosity were women as incarnations of motherhood, as Mothers in the Name of God the Father.

In post-dictatorial Chile, the essential, nuclear family ideologeme became a narrative of national reconciliation, although society was increasingly aware of the concrete plurality of family formations existing in the country since at least the colonial period (Commission of the Family, Aylwin, 1992). The same year that “protected democracy” replaced the dictatorship, the Ministry of Women was created and President Aylwin promoted a study on the different types of families that existed in a country. The study unequivocally showed that single women headed over forty percent of households. The struggle over the political consecration of the family was thus reactivated, affecting the women’s movement and post-dictatorial democrats. From the 1990s to this date, the new State of Rights could not surpass the previous State of Terror; rather, a transition to new forms of body politics was in effect. Abortion itself became a point of contention, along with divorce laws, homosexual rights, the labor code, and a new constitution. In this model of conservative modernization, abortion supposedly refers to a structural disorder affecting none other than civilization itself: a deep moral crisis ( Letter of the Bishops, 1992; Brito, 1997).

Under the dictatorship, women’s organizations had called for “democracy in the nation and in the home,” defying Schmittian contention that theological politics were exclusively in the public domain. The post-dictatorial State proclaimed a feeble, “protected,” and authoritarian democracy in the country at the expense of democratizing the “private sphere.” Criminalizing abortion enforces the motherly devotion of woman, as one of her body parts (uterus, zygote) subordinates the whole ensemble of sex and gender (woman, person, capacity of decision). The criminalization of women’s desire, however, depends on the theological politicization of private life as well as of her “private parts.” Here, Family Devotion is privatized, a metonym for women’s reproductive capacities. Thus, her right to decide can only “incarnate” in her as punishment, as a crime “against life itself.” She is criminalized in the same measure as she is de-subjectified and silenced. Her “fault” is expressed in the symbolic order inasmuch as she ventures to be a body-for-herself, a subject who can choose. Each abortion is turned into a clandestine, silenced act, subject to medical malpractice, barely murmured and moaned. The role of criticism must then be to unveil such political illusion, de-sacralizing the discourse surrounding reproduction and exposing imaginary mythology as political theology.

A Zygote Democracy: Biopolitics of the “Morning-after-pill”[4]

Today, we live in a zygote democracy. Postinor-2 (a progestin-only EC)—the “morning after” pill—was legalized in Chile in 2002, after a Supreme Court battle, becoming a symbol of post-dictatorial tensions surrounding Family Devotion. Until then affluent Chileans were able to purchase it on demand from private health services, while poorer citizens under care of the national health service were only given EC in cases of sexual assault. In 2006, access to EC was briefly allowed for all females 14 and up and widely distributed free of cost. Free distribution, however, was immediately blocked by yet another court decision. Months later, an Appeals Court upheld a lower court decision to allow the Ministry of Health to distribute EC to minors without parental consent. In April, 2008, Chile's Constitutional Court ruled free distribution of EC to be illegal, a debate that stagnated because Constitutional Court rulings cannot be appealed in Chile. These returns of Postinor-2 have been as cyclical as the “return of the repressed.” The same Constitutional Court that has prohibited free distribution of the pill on several occasions, has said nothing on the issue of bi-partisan politics, which were constitutionally mandated for the post-dictatorial two-party system. Metaphorically, key questions such as women’s rights or democratic transparency have been reduced to the trajectory of an ovum. As activist and writer Pedro Lemebel put it, the political scenario was “confusing the egg with the chicken” (Lemebel, 2008).

Similar to the situation with abortion law today, during the past decade, the pill threatened the very unity of the center-left coalition in power, since it had produced a rupture between the Christian Democratic Party and the parties on the left of the coalition (an alliance of Socialist Party, the Party for Democracy, and Radical Party). De facto agreements with conservative sectors, including the Church, buried discussions of the morning-after pill, given the pressures on “secular” President Lagos from Christian Democrats and the Opus Dei. Ultra conservative Cardinal Medina’s visit to Chile firmly closed the debate. The prelate’s farewell gift to the Moral Right was his rejection of the Supreme Court’s legalization of the contraception pill, as well as his opposition to any further “moderation” of Chile’s already watered-down divorce law proposal.

In 1995, a similar situation took place as the then Minister of Women Affairs decided to use the word “gender” in official documents to be used in the Beijing Conference. An ample majority of conservative “democrats” in Parliament had officially “vetoed” the term. During the return to democracy, the word was prohibited from official documents because it supposedly crystallized the secularized leftist resistance to the recently conquered democracy—weak and authoritarian as it may have been. Left democracy was then associated with “licentiousness,” moral risk, “unhealthy” homosexual practices, marriage of people of the same sex, abortion, and the “morning after” pill. According to those who upheld Family Devotion, it all signaled a return to “Sodom and Gomorrah.” To this day, bans on sexuality in Chile seem to guarantee the continuation of authoritarianism and censorship.

The Fallopian Journey: Biopolitics and Authoritarian Symbolism

Pro-Pinochet sectors prevailed in Parliament, allying themselves with sectors in the “center” and debilitating the Concertación, the governing coalition at the time. It became evident once again that in the case of Chile, tensions between private and public life constitute a discursive matrix that we could term as “genitalia politics.” Enclosed in the fallopian journey, our society embarked in substantial regressions in civil right objectives, mainly regarding secularization and pluralism.

Moral fundamentalisms—the country’s symbolic continuation of authoritarian rule—insist that free market policies contradict existential liberties. Detractors of the “morning-after-pill” amid postmodern, neoliberal conditions have enhanced essentialist parameters, justifying their position in absolute terms and attempting to place a moralistic lock on options available for sexual subjects. They reach tragicomic levels in their “absolute defense of life” (Vigil, 2001) or in their mechanical application of the concept of “human rights” to an embryo whose legal status has not even begun to be debated nationally (Gonzalo García, 2001). Particularly suspicious is the fact that such insistence on the rights of zygotes came from a political sector that never spoke up about human rights violations, nor defended the lives of citizens during the dictatorship.

The rights of the woman/person disappear in pro-life transcendentalist defense of the zygote—a mythical construct upon whose fiction they project biological and religious narratives that are never recognized as such. Unlike women, the zygote—a biologically religious hybrid of the XXI Century—enters directly as a “natural, partial object” into the “public” sphere, in what I consider a biopolitical transaction par excellence. What woman has not accomplished, it does. So as it gains public recognition, we move backward in sexual and reproductive rights. Women are again not only secluded in domestic “privacy,” but in their “utmost private parts,” the womb, is seen to be “more natural” than the embryo, in the embryonic body citizenship of today’s biopolitics. Those six days that the voyage of the zygote takes in its displacement to the fallopian tube become more significant that the life cycles of women. Thus, the Western “epic” shipwrecks in the Fallopian Cycle before women can begin to be subjects of their own destinies.

Open-ended Conclusions: Ideologically Enlarged Body Parts

We have attempted to demystify Family Devotion as political theology, primarily referring to the transference of God’s aura to the Name of the Father. What would it mean to deconstruct the mother? Sacralized in pre-colonial times, idealized by patriarchy, and “queered” in some contemporary circles, from essentialism to post-structuralism, maternity appears as one of those blind spots in the critique of sex and gender configurations. Surely, constructing gender as performative is slowly “contaminating” the mother, which in indigenous and Latin American cultures has had intense and profound links with mythical, non-modern ideologemes. This may explain why most Latin American feminists have not repudiated her as much as in Western societies, if we think of Simone de Beauvoir (1997), Shulamith Firestone (1979), Kate Millett (1977) or Betty Friedan (1992). In fact, Latin American feminists display a certain proximity to both men and women who have recuperated the maternal imaginary. In general, the French Tel Quel Movement seems closer to views about the maternal in this part of the continent: Luce Irigaray (1985), Helene Cixous (1994), and Julia Kristeva (1986). In any case, if we insist on deconstructing God, the Father, in patriarchy, it seems only appropriate for us to also embark on a different perception of the maternal principle, one more situational and performative, more active and transgressive. At the level of experience and institutions, motherhood begins to be seen as a changing and situated phenomenon, a practice, a process, a performance: “identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results" (Butler 2009, 25). Surplus affection and care are, in the current sex/gender system, situated as exclusively maternal experiences, but increasingly de-regulated in the Hypermarket conception of the State. Motherly nurturing becomes increasingly privatized and compulsory, publically mandated to be deployed by working women at home and at work, not only in caring for children but for the sick and the elderly as well.

In this essay, we have centered on "pro-life" ideology, which is contradictory in perceiving women as both eternal adolescents of desire and as Mothers, with a capital M. Such is the metaphor of a country that advocates “tutelage subjectivity” and protected democracy at all levels. Contemporary women are judged as irresponsible and excessively promiscuous when it comes to reproductive rights: Church and State are then here to ensure their conversion to the oedipal triad, in the Name of the Father. Motherhood itself is perceived at risk; as Chilean women increasingly join the workforce, they delay mothering and often plan at most one or two children in a country that is already faces considerably declining demographics in the near future.

Maternity has yet to be seen as historically and socially enshrined. However, desacralizing motherhood has meant reducing her to a uterus, as a true “miracle” takes place: political theology embodies naturalistic, neo-positivistic, and biological mythologies. Market, criminalization, and medical technologies coalesce. Ancient goddesses shipwreck in the pharmacy, and in risky, clandestine abortion practices if she is poor. No health rights for her, as she has ceased to be conceived of as a person. Her “private” sphere is objectified in the Name of the Father by patriarchal norm, as she is reduced to a de-subjectified object, deprived above all of subjectivity. "We cannot give the uterus the status of humanity," while reserving for the zygote a status of humanity and citizenship denied to women, says Pro Life, Pilar Vigil. (Nomadías, 1998). [5] Anatomic politics turns fragments against each other. Bodies without organs are trafficked; organs are metaphorically usurped from bodies in post-colonial nation states. Motherhood becomes a compulsory identity. After all, what could a uterus say about itself? What could the fallopian voyage represent beyond the power markings inscribed in it? How could a uterus say “no”?

In 1995, behind the parliamentary rejection of the word gender, homophobia was hidden and misogyny was laid bare. Abortion as malaise and as strategy of body colonialism push us to take on the challenge to create new political cultures that allow us to disassemble the “rationality” of scientific-religious establishments. For political theology to perform fully, body politics must be encrypted in market, scientific, and religious institutions. At this point, biopolitics unveils its empiricist framework, the de facto medical power overlapped with market fundamentalism: traffic of organs, traffic of women, globalized slave traffics. From Juárez to Alto Hospicio, such is the new triad: Medical establishment, Hypermarket, Moral Fundamentalisms. Those three machineries share a common mechanism: the de-subjectification of women and subalterns, objectifying great human ensembles, sacralizing isolated, enlarged body parts.

Today, 14-year olds cannot decide on the “morning after pill.” But 14-year olds have become, for the first time in Chilean history, “subjects” of criminality by virtue of the law of Adolescent Criminal responsibility established by new, post-dictatorial law. The reductionism of “ovum democracy” unveils the necessity to debate radical democracy, a pending project in Chile to this day. During her second term, Michelle Bachelet’s popular support has declined from 62% at the beginning of her first term to 24% as her second administration approaches midterm elections. At the root of this phenomenon is gendered theological politics. She was first sacralized as “Mother,” despite all contradictions of that term. Expected to rule in the Name of the Father, her program is proposing an end to criminalization of abortion (albeit in only three cases, danger on the life of the mother, rape, and non-viability of the fetus). She is presenting a historical turn toward free education, a reform of the labor code left by the dictatorship, as well a new constitution—this time, characterized by popular participation. Recently, her son and daughter-in-law have been linked to a corruption scandal, which has lowered her approval ratings to a third of what she first obtained—she faces rejection from inside (Christian Democrat leadership) and outside the new coalition which brought her to power for a second term (Nueva Mayoría). The abortion bill was not presented to parliament until this year, and as I finish this text, a 32 year-old woman has been detained, accused of having had an abortion, supposedly due to her use of the “morning after pill.”

Compulsory maternity denies our condition as individuals, as right-bearing subjects, as desiring, embodied citizens. Between nature and culture, stands the womb of women, a disembodied organ directly appended to morality and repression, a signifier of women's segmentation in contemporary political theology. As feminists, we have promoted an end to Phallocentrism. We must embark on an end to the sacralization of the Womb. The over-enlargement of the uterus confronts us with an ideologically alienated body, a natural body directly connected to serve others, annexed to the Church, to the Punitive State, to the Hypermarket. This is never a body-for-us. Woman’s subjectivity seems ideologically embodied in that false body piece, in that atomized anatomy which economic and political fetishism has represented for us as cohesive, compulsory identity. The self, indispensable for the exercise of autonomy and freedom, collides with the body of this normalized maternal fiction. Our collective subjectivities and transforming practices of citizenship contrast with the lack of a legal ground able to respond to our desires and our legitimate wills to decide. In today’s Chile, abortion has become this minimum boundary between nature and culture, between disaster and the immense chasms of inequality, between sexualities and law, but also between enjoyment and punishment.

In whose interests has women's sexuality become so ideologically manageable and hyper criminalized? Such is a type of question absent from Schmitt’s paradigm, for abortion is not what is mainly criminalized here: dissent, opposition, radical democracy are. The clandestine nature of abortion marks institutionalized, symbolic, and material sex/gender violence. If you are young, poor, and a woman, you will be inevitably considered a social risk, a precarious and dispensable segment devoid of meaning.

The enlarged size of patriarchal representations of the uterus is inversely proportional to the stature of woman as civic person. It is also metonymy for most radical democracies. This is not only the case in Chile. The Spanish Republic de-criminalized abortion, but the Franco dictatorship re-criminalized it. Nazism punished abortion with the death penalty. During the Nazi occupation in France, a washerwoman was sentenced to guillotine for having had an abortion, as Nazism considered it a "crime against the state."

Freedom from both biological and theological domination is what most feminists are demanding, and have been doing so since the 1930s in Chile. Here and now, Chilean democracy stands in debt. Hypermarket compulsory maternity stands as bulwark against radicalizing democracy in what has become a long, uncertain post-dictatorship. Abortion sets boundaries between citizenship and non-citizenship, between those who have rights and those who do not. In the meantime, commercial culture continues to be obsessed with genitals, with uterus and zygotes, with the blatant traffic of women. What is lost in rights is won in moral sectarianism, as abortion turns motherhood (friend) against abject woman (enemy), with no links in between: "Abject woman is not a mother," said the bishop.

Foucault shows that the new technologies of power cannot be comprehended through juridical concepts because the state has developed a maze of institutions such as the convent, the army, the clinic, and the school, the factory and the prison. Like Schmitt, he does not focus on the private sphere. But unlike the German author, he does focus on eugenic precepts, bodily health, and public hygiene, as control centers for the biopower of the population. The working body could grant sexuality a place for disciplinary power in armies and factories. Sex becomes an essential aspect of this new political economy of entire populations. In the meantime, penalized abortions are performed as clandestine, unsafe, violent procedures. The Opus Dei was blunt: “abortion is murder.” Raped women should do what God supposedly imposed upon them and their bodies. In this sense, we are at a historic juncture. Current debates on abortion urge us to reflect critically on the cyclical and strategic approaches to current legislative proposals. Under current circumstances, I consider it essential to support the three clauses put forward by President Michelle Bachelet for the abortion law in Chile, while at the same time embarking on a strategic conquest of our right to decide without restrictions. The right to choose is ours.

Kemy Oyarzún is an Associate Professor at the University of Chile, where she founded the Gender Studies Program in 1991. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine. She is a writer of essays, including the books Tinta Sangre (Ed. Cuarto Propio, 2014), Sujetos y Actores Sociales, Reflexiones en el Chile de Hoy (comp., Ed. LOM, 2011), Estéticas y Marcas Identitarias (Serie Nomadías Feministas, Ed. Cuarto Propio, 2005), Pulsiones estéticas: escritura de mujeres en Chile (Ed. Cuarto Propio, 2004), and Poética del desengaño: deseo, poder, escritura: Barrios, Bombal, Asturias y Yáñez (Ediciones LAR, 1989). She has published many essays and book-chapters on cultural studies, feminisms, gender and memory studies, and her book Polifonías del cuerpo: Género y Literatura, currently in press, is a collection of essays that includes some of them. She taught at the University of California for 15 years. Currently, she is the Chair of the Study Committee for the creation of the first Ph.D. program in Gender Studies in Chile. She served at the University Senate during five years. She founded and directed the journal Nomadías on gender studies.


  [1] This study was done with support from FONDECYT N°114031, “Studies on Body and Literature, for which Kemy Oyarzún is responsible. University of Chile.

  [2] I understand “Family Devotion” to be the heteronormative, naturalized and essentialized form of the Family, particularly idealized in post-dictatorial Chile (Oyarzún, 2000). It does not refer to concrete formations. It is rather a theological “ideologeme.”

  [3] Butler suggests that “a Derridean notion of iterability enters into a Marxist conception of the reproduction of domination and, indeed, the reproduction of personhood (an important part of materialism according to the Marx of The German Ideology),” op cit. iii.

  [4] The concept of biopolitics has elicited controversy. Foucault introduces the notion of biopolitics in a conference in Rio in 1974 (Esposito 2007, 27), but he does not use the concept in his 1975 Discipline and Punish (1995). The notion will emerge only in the last chapter of History of Sexulality Vol 1 (published in October 1976). Finally, biopower and biopolitics are analyzed later, in his lecture series titled “Society Must Be Defended” (1976), constituting an integral part of the normalizing power. I use Foucault’s notion of power over life by the term bio-power, restricting the employment of biopolitics to technologies of population control which are key in engendering reproduction: “The disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed” (Foucault, HS, 139). Also see, The Birth of Biopolitics (2008).

  [5] Revista Nomadías , Nº 3, Vol. 2, 1998.

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