Latin America is undoubtedly home to the world’s most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The case the surrounding women’s reproductive rights is largely ignored across the country. The issue of reproductive health is usually kept off public health policy, and women remain unable to access up-to-date and accurate information regarding their reproductive rights and how to maintain a healthy reproductive system. It is estimated that worldwide there are around 4.2 million unsafe abortions take place each year in developing countries, where reproductive rights are mostly restricted. As Amnesty International highlights in their latest report on reproductive rights, the ‘…criminalization of abortion has a serious impact on the rights of women, including their right to life, health, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and non-discrimination’. Many countries in Central America, including Nicaragua, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador as well as Ecuador, have all criminalized abortion completely, even in cases for the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape. In Ecuador, article 444 of the constitution punishes women who have sought abortions with prison sentence ranging from one to five years.
Many global studies have shown that the criminalization of abortion does not in fact have an impact in reducing the number of abortions. Rather it leads women to seek alternative, and extremely dangerous methods of terminating their pregnancies. In regions that have completely criminalized abortions, women, like Rosaura, a 16 year old with leukaemia who died from complications caused by a miscarriage, are denied the right to have a therapeutic abortion. It is not only just the case that the criminalization of abortion affects women’s rights, the health systems available in the majority of Latin America are poor and ill-equipped to deal with adequately the needs of women and ensuring their reproductive health. Current health expenditure per capita from 2009-2013 in El Salvador is US$251, Guatemala $214, Honduras $193, Nicaragua $125. Those these numbers have risen substantially in the past 10 years, in comparison to the Netherlands, where it is US$5,995, the US $8,608 and the UK with $3,609, it is clear that Latin America has a long way to go to sufficiently address women’s reproductive rights and needs.
Although, some parts of Latin America, such as Uruguay have make progress regarding women’s reproductive rights, where in 2012 the government passed a law to liberalize the country’s abortion laws. Including broadening the conditions under which a woman may be exempted from punishment and legally be allowed to terminate her pregnancy. Now, a woman may request an abortion in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy, which is extended to up to 14 weeks in cases of rape. There are also no limits if the woman’s life is threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy. Though there are several requirements that must be met prior, including consultations with gynaecologists, psychologists and social workers, it cannot be questioned this is a step in the right direction. The rest of Latin America should take note, and find the political will to protect women’s reproductive rights.
– by Wiktoria Schulz