The abortion verdict triggered a massive wave of protests in the United States. But people are not only united by their anger at the verdict – many wear green at the demos. A color that has its origins in Argentina.

The protests began shortly after the US Supreme Court ruled on June 24 that abortion rights had been upheld. Thousands took to the streets across the United States. Women and men, black, white and Latina, people in wheelchairs, old and young. They were all shocked and angry about the verdict – and one colour.

From Washington to Houston to Los Angeles, abortion demos were draped in green. People wore green scarves around their necks, held green signs that read “We won’t back down” in their hands and were sometimes literally wrapped in green pyrotechnic smoke.

It was a familiar image for women in Latin America. For almost two decades, the green scarf has been the universal symbol for abortion rights there – the idea for it was born in Argentina.

Green born as a protest color in Argentina

Abortion was banned in the South American country in the early 2000s and was a controversial issue even among feminists. Inspired by the “Mothers of the May Revolution Square” (“Madres de Plaza de Mayo”), two women finally had an idea. Those mothers and grandmothers who began demonstrating in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires in the late 1970s against the disappearance of their daughters and sons during the military dictatorship wore white headscarves as a sign of protest.

To raise awareness of abortion rights, Marta Alanis, founder of Catholic Women for the Right to Decide, organized a national women’s gathering in 2003 – with bandanas (square headscarves) for the participants. Along with her friend Susana Chairotti, she chose green, the color that represents nature, growth and life, as she reported to the Washington Post. This was also intended to stand up to the opposing “pro-life” movement, which had hijacked the term “life” for itself.

The gathering was a complete success. The green scarves were the front page of the local newspapers. “For the first time, tens of thousands of women are demanding the decriminalization of abortion, the right to contraception and to choose when and how many children to have,” reported the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12. Bandanas quickly spread across the country. In 2015, they were part of the nationwide demonstrations against femicide— that had sprung up over the high rate of feminicide. The protests under the motto “Ni una menos” (“Not one less”) grew into a movement that covered the entire continent (stern reported).

Abortion Law in Green: From Latin America to the United States

In 2018, the green scarf had finally established itself on the streets. Argentina was about to legalize the right to abortion, the law overturned at the last moment – but the momentum of the movement had come. That year, according to Alanis, there was no more green fabric to buy nationwide. Two years later, the time had come: In December 2020, Argentina became the first large country in Latin America to legalize abortion rights.

Fanned by the victory in Argentina, the green scarf spread from there across the entire continent. Suddenly, the bandanas appeared at demonstrations in Chile, Peru and Colombia. Activists took the fight for abortion rights to the streets — and to the courts. In September 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion. Colombia’s constitutional court followed suit in February this year. This means that abortions are now legal in the three largest countries in Latin America.

The June 24 Supreme Court ruling came as a blow to many of the women who had fought for their rights for so long, always looking to the United States as a role model. Ironically, the land of unlimited opportunity turned back the clocks – and thus joins the ranks of Poland and Nicaragua, which had also tightened access to abortions.

Green wave reaches the Supreme Court

As great as the international shock at the verdict was, the feeling of solidarity over the burgeoning protests was all the greater in Latin America. For the activists who for decades had taken to the streets in their countries for abortion rights, it was simply poignant to see how many of the people in front of the Supreme Court wore green bandanas. “It is a great honor, personally and collectively, that green is now being taken up in the United States,” Alanis told French newspaper Le Monde.

Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director of the “Center for Reproductive Rights” – one of the groups that fought for the right to abortion before the Colombian constitutional court – takes a similar view. “The United States has seldom looked south and wondered what it can learn from us,” she told the Washington Post. Perhaps, according to Martínez Coral, now is the time. “We are part of the same movement.”

One thing is certain, the green wave has finally reached the USA. How much she can gain in strength remains to be seen.

Sources: NPR, Washington Post, Le Monde, with Reuters material