Over the years, women’s reproductive rights have become a political battleground all over the world. In Latin America especially, women’s reproductive rights and abortion laws are dismal. Therefore, access to unsafe abortions are rampant and women’s reproductive rights are constantly in danger.

The situation in Latin America

The situation regarding abortion varies from country to country. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Latin America has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Most countries in the region have very ambiguous yet restrictive abortion laws; some only allow abortions to save the life of a woman (Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela) while others allow it in cases of rape (Brazil, Chile, Mexico). However, out of the 20 countries in the region, only Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay provide abortions without restrictions. On the other hand, countries like Honduras and Nicaragua prohibit abortions altogether.

Despite these restrictive policies, from 2010-2014, 6.5 million induced abortions happened every year in Latin America overall. 95% of these abortions were unsafe. Every year, one million women require hospital assistance because of unsafe abortions. These statistics prove that criminalizing abortion will not prevent it from happening and that Latin America is in dire need of reform regarding abortion laws.

Unsafe abortions and Latin America

The harsh laws imposed by Latin American governments force women to seek out unsafe abortions. As reported by the Guttmacher Institute, the most common complications with unsafe abortions are excessive blood loss and infection. Latin America has the highest number of maternal deaths as a result of unsafe abortions in the world. It is estimated that 2,000 women in the region die every year from unsafe abortions. Additionally, post-abortion services in Latin America are often bad. There are delays in treatment, inadequate access, and extreme social stigma, even from hospital staff. Unsafe abortions are a practice often ignored, yet a huge threat to women’s health and livelihood. As I mentioned before, an unsafe abortion can cause severe health problems and even death.

Abortions are equality

Access to abortion is not only key to proper reproductive rights. It is an important factor when fighting poverty and inequality. According to the Guttmacher Institute, poor and rural women are more likely to experience unsafe abortions with severe complications. Indigenous women are also disproportionately denied access to safe abortions. Poverty is a huge obstacle to accessing safe abortions. It shouldn’t be. Restrictive abortion laws rob women of their bodily autonomy and reinforce a systematic cycle of poverty.

Improvements in the 21st century

Reproductive healthcare and abortion laws have a long way to go in Latin America. Yet, that is not to say that progress hasn’t been made. Women’s rights activists in the region have made reform possible. In the past few years, criminal penalties have been lifted regarding abortions in certain circumstances. Policymakers under pressure have amended restrictive laws and put procedures in place that alleviate the consequences of unsafe abortions. In Colombia, a lawyer in 2005 went before the Constitutional Court and proposed that the penal code on abortion should explicitly provide exemptions from punishment “where the woman’s life or health is in danger and where the pregnancy is the result of rape.”

Progress like this can make a real difference. Safe and legal abortion is a human right, and the law needs to begin reflecting that.

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