Abortion Rights in Latin America
In 2006, The New York Times published an editorial denouncing the situation of abortion rights in Latin America. The editorialist explains that in the majority of the countries in the region, abortions are still a crime. However, this situation does not seem to reduce the frequency of the interventions. The rates of abortion in Latin America are actually higher than in Western Europe or in the United States.
The journalist points to the lack of sex education in the region and the importance of social taboos about unmarried woman seeking contraception. The differences between the distinct social classes only allow women who have a wealthy background to have abortions from private doctors whereas women who cannot afford such services rely on amateurs or execute it themselves. Up to 5,000 women die each year from botched abortions in Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more are hospitalised.
A few countries permit abortions in extreme circumstances, mostly when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus will not survive to term or the pregnancy is the result of rape. Even in countries where abortion is legal, there are many obstacles for women to actually go through the procedure. Abortions can be denied because of the intervention of anti abortion local medical officials or priests, unnecessary stringent requirements or because the women cannot incur the public shame of reporting rape.
In Colombia, abortion has been illegal since 2006; even in cases where the woman’s life is in danger. However, the average in the country is one abortion per woman over all of her fertile years. In Peru, the average is nearly two abortions per woman over the course of her reproductive years. In Cuba, abortion is legal on demand.
Decriminalisation has become an issue in multiple countries of the region such as Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, and Mexico. Such a step would only take place in the condition of certain circumstances.
Human Rights Watch explains that Chile is one of the countries where abortion is prohibited regardless of the circumstances-even in cases of rape or incest or to save the life or health of a pregnant woman. It has been estimated by the NGO that 60,000 to 200,000 clandestine abortions occur annually, corresponding to between 20 and 40 percent of all pregnancies. In Chile, statistics do not present the numbers of abortions that actually occur. This situation is mainly due to the highly stigmatized and clandestine nature of the practice. The country shows the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world. More than 15% of all births correspond to adolescent mothers. In 2010, Chile was the center of a controversy about the distribution of modern contraception methods. The main health authority of the Coquimbo region withdrew the ability of midwives to distribute contraception that went against national cultural norms. Consequently, many women, especially in rural or less accessible areas, no longer had access to contraception because only medical doctors could distribute the different methods.
In Peru, the laws and policies are particularly repressive. Abortion is generally treated as a crime and the knowledge of the population is vague on how to legally access abortions. In the point of view of Human Rights Watch, this situation can be a factor to maternal death and disability. In 2005, Peru was denounced on the international scene by the UN Human Rights Committee because the Peruvian state failed to provide an abortion for an adolescent girl carrying an anencephalic pregnancy. The Committee concluded that this refusal constituted a violation of several human rights, including the right of freedom from torture. Since then, the State has been obliged to ensure that a similar situation would not occur in the future. Even so, and despite much pressure from Peruvian civil society groups, the government has yet to adopt clear legal guidelines for the provision of legal abortion.
Women in Argentina face a different range of obstacles. However, they are not as structural. Women do not easily access reproductive health products and services such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape. The most common barriers are long delays in obtaining services, unnecessary referrals to other clinics, demands for spousal permission contrary to law, financial barriers, and, in some cases, arbitrary denials. The health of women and girls is directly put at risk in these conditions during their pregnancy. Human Rights Watch explains that the government's oversight of reproductive health care and accountability practices are woefully deficient.
In August 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of a Mexico City law that legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Since that time, 16 of Mexico's 32 states have adopted reforms that recognize the right to life from the moment of conception. In May 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that all states must provide emergency contraception and access to abortion for rape victims. However, only five states have reformed their procedural codes accordingly and efforts to inform women and girls of their rights have been very limited.
In 2010, Brazil suffered heavy violence against family planning clinics and aggressive prosecutions of abortion which drives to limit women’s access to reproductive health services. In May 2011, a bill to prioritize the human rights of a fertilized ovum over those of the pregnant woman carrying it was voted favorably out of the Family and Social Security Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives. The bill is still pending at this writing.
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/06/opinion/06fri3.html?pagewanted=print
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2011/chile