Reproductive Rights Laws Remain Stringent Across South America

According to one study, 97 percent of women of reproductive age in Latin America live in countries with restrictive abortion laws.
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Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Argentine Congress in Buenos Aires, on June 13th, 2018, calling for the approval of a bill that would legalize abortion. Lawmakers in traditionally conservative Argentina began a key session on Wednesday ahead of a divisive vote.

Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Argentine Congress in Buenos Aires, on June 13th, 2018, calling for the approval of a bill that would have legalized abortion. The bill was narrowly rejected in August of 2018.

Doctors performed a caesarean section on an 11-year-old in Argentina on Tuesday, after Argentine authorities refused to grant the girl access to an abortion when she became pregnant with her rapist's child. The news led to heartbreak and outrage among members of the country's reproductive rights community, many of whom had joined the girl and her mother in repeated requests for access to an abortion. Born at 23 weeks, the baby is unlikely to survive.

A group led by female lawmakers in Argentina narrowly lost the vote last August on a bill that would have legalized abortion in the country. Even with Argentina's stringent abortion restrictions, however, advocates argue that the 11-year-old should have had access to an abortion: A 1921 law allows abortion in the case of rape or when the pregnant person's life and health are in danger. (A legal drama played out between the provincial government and the girl's family, with some officials claiming the girl did not want an abortion. The final decision was delayed until it was too late, and the caesarean section became necessary.)

Argentina's laws are roughly in line with those of many of its neighbors in South America. On the continent, abortion remains illegal except in specific circumstances in all countries except Guyana and Uruguay.

In the broader region of Latin America, six countries completely prohibit abortion, with no legal exception: the Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Suriname. Only three countries in Latin America allow abortion without asking patients to specify a reason: Uruguay, Guyana, and Cuba (some lists also include Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States). In Cuba and Uruguay, a requirement for parental authorization can still limit some people's access to abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health and reproductive rights organization based in the U.S., over 97 percent of women of reproductive age in Latin America live in countries with restrictive abortion laws. As was the case in Argentina last year, the power and influence of the Catholic church and its lobbies in Latin America often contributes to the region's conservative attitudes and restrictive laws concerning reproduction.

Between countries like Honduras, which has a complete abortion ban, and countries like Uruguay, where abortion is legal, exists a spectrum of other Latin American countries that allow abortions in some specific cases. Guatemala, Venezuela, and Paraguay allow abortion to save the life of the pregnant person; Brazil, Chile, and Panama have similar laws, but also allow abortion in the case of rape. In Mexico, abortion laws are determined on the state level, making the country a patchwork when it comes to the status of reproductive rights. (Nonetheless, in most parts of Mexico, people cannot request an abortion unless their lives are in danger, they've been raped, or their fetus is unlikely to survive.)

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