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In Latin America, Abortion Laws Have Put Many Women in Danger. Here's How.

Central America South America Wellness
by Amanda Machado Jan 26, 2016

1. In five countries in Latin America, a woman can still be denied an abortion even when it can save their life.

As of now, Cuba, Uruguay, and Guyana are the only countries in Latin America that allow elective abortion. An elective abortion is commonly defined as terminating a pregnancy for reasons other than maternal health or fetal disease. Cuba and Guyana legalized the practice years ago and Uruguay just changed their policy in 2012 to legalized abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (up to 14 weeks in the case of rape).

However, the Uruguay policy is still far more restrictive than other places around the world. For example, women still have the to first discuss their abortion with a gynocologist, a mental health professional, and a social worker before gaining clearance. They then have to wait five days before having the procedure.

In some other countries the practice is allowed under certain restrictions, but in Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Chile, abortion is entirely prohibited, even in the case of rape and incest, and in cases where it can save the woman’s life.

An article in The Guardian reported the extreme stances taken by these countries and the consequences they’ve had on the women who live there. Women have been denied cancer treatment because they were pregnant (in one case, a woman delivered a malformed baby and then died 17 months later) or have been forced to give birth as young as 11-years old.

2. Ecuador still doesn’t allow abortion in the case of rape. Meanwhile, a government study has indicated that one in four women in Ecuador have experienced sexual violence.

President Correa has been criticized for refusing to reform Ecuador’s abortion laws. A 2014 national survey found that 65 percent of Ecuadoreans support legalizing abortion. And yet, according to articles in PRI, Correa recently hired an anti-abortion activist to run the government agency that deals with reducing teen pregnancy and once described activism for this issue as “a gay and abortionist agenda.”

3. Because of the strict abortion restrictions, some Latin American women have received jail time even when having a miscarriage.

In El Salvador, several single mothers have been imprisoned for having miscarriages during their pregnancy. The BBC reported this story back in May of last year. Between 2000 and 2011 49 women have been convicted in El Salvador of abortion or “aggravated homicide.” These women were sometimes given sentences for as long as forty years.

In countries like Paraguay and Honduras, woman can receive sentences of up to ten years for having an abortion. In Chile, women who get abortions can be punished for up to five years. The system has been criticized as classist: women with money can often easily pay for secret abortions in hospitals that promise to remain quiet. Meanwhile, low-income women have no access to these centers. They also have no way of affording lawyers when they are later accused.

4. Making abortion illegal doesn’t mean abortion is no longer happening. In fact, the abortion rate in Latin America is higher than other parts of the world.

Around the world, restrictive abortion laws don’t necessarily lead to lower abortion rates. Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute prove that Latin America follows this worldwide trend. The abortion rate is around 32 per 1,000 in Latin America. Meanwhile, in Western Europe where abortion is generally legal, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000.

It is estimated that 4 million women in Latin America have an abortion each year. In Brazil alone, a 2010 study by the University of Brasilia found that 1 in 5 women under 40 (more than 20% of Brazil’s total population) had had at least one abortion.

5. Instead, abortion continues generally under unsafe conditions: in Latin America, 95% of abortions between 1995 and 2008 were considered unsafe.

This statistic comes from Guttmacher Institute. They estimate that all safe abortions in the area come from Cuba and other areas where abortion care is accessible.

In Ecuador, abortion is the second leading cause of female morbidity in the country. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, in 2011 there were over 23,000 cases of “disease, disability, or physical harm” related to “unspecified” abortions in 2011. Countries like Bolivia and Columbia have similar numbers.

In the University of Brasilia study, they found that 50% of the women who had abortions were later hospitalized for complications. Brazil’s Ministry of Health estimated that around 200,000 women each year are hospitalized from infections, vaginal bleeding and other complications that were the result of illegal abortions.

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