Focus on Health in Latin America: Abortion and Family Planning Laws by Ernesto Valles, Center Assistant
Earlier this month news made headlines about a 10-year old girl in Paraguay who was denied an abortion after reportedly being raped and impregnated by her stepfather. According to the Paraguayan laws, an abortion can only be granted under the circumstances that the mother's life is at risk. As in this case, as long as the rape victims and young girls are in relatively good health performing an abortion is considered illegal and can lead to imprisonment.
Stories like this one continue to resemble that of many women living in Latin America. Some countries such as Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have even more extreme measures to the law on abortion by completely banning the practice of it, no exceptions. International rights groups have continuously advocated for women's reproductive rights, pressuring governments to protect the choices women make about their bodies. They believe that access to safe abortion is fundamental to the provision of reproductive and maternal health.
By banning abortion, the government ignores the mental and physical health that this 10-year old girl and thousands of other women have to unwillingly endure. The World Health Organization states that the main causes of death in girls from developing countries are pregnancy-related complications and childbirth. What's even worse is that mothers who begin to experience pregnancy complications, especially those living in poverty, refuse to seek any medical care out of fear of being accused of intentionally initiating a miscarriage.
The immense gap between rich and poor that exists in Latin American counties play a great role in the limit of resources these women have. To be able to perform an illegal abortion requires the necessary funds to afford the procedure and pay for the traveling expenses. It's evident that these strict abortion laws in fact criminalize poverty.
Communities across Latin America are mobilizing to express their opposition to laws that ban abortion and restrict women's reproductive choices. MILES Chiles, a Chilean non-governmental organization that focuses on the country's sexual and reproductive rights in, has spearheaded a campaign where women have created "abortion tutorials." The tutorial videos, which have gone viral under the hashtag #LEYabortoTERAPÉUTICO, feature women giving advice on how to "accidentally" terminate a pregnancy. They are a response to the Chilean government's restrictive abortion laws. However, in the beginning of the year Chilean President Michelle Bachelet did announce a plan to legalize abortion in cases of rape or when the mother's or baby's life is at risk. But until this plan is put into action, supporters of women's reproductive rights will continue to fight for the justice that women deserve.
IMAGE: provided by the MILES Chile twitter page