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Latin America still a bastion of draconian anti-abortion laws

The Guardian | 2-13-2013

In 2007, a battle was won in the bitter fight to decriminalise abortion in Latin America when Mexico City passed groundbreaking legislation that allowed any woman to access abortion on request up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

Latin America remains a bastion of draconian anti-abortion legislation, where the termination of a pregnancy is almost universally considered a criminal act. Most countries operate an exemptions approach, where abortion is illegal but penalties are waived in a few specific circumstances. Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador ban abortion completely, even if the pregnancy threatens the life of both the mother and the foetus.

In such an environment, Mexico City's bold step was celebrated as a major victory by those wanting to increase access to safe abortions for women in Central and South America.

"What happened in Mexico City was the result of decades of relentless work to try and reframe abortion as a public health and human right as well as a moral or religious issue," says Maria Mejia, executive director of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics in favour of the right to decide) in Mexico City.

"I think what was key to our success [in Mexico City] was to stick to a harm reduction strategy over decades of campaigning," she says. "Basically saying to the authorities, if you can't make this legal then at least reduce the risks for women. This emphasis on abortion as a public health issue eventually led to the opening up of a dialogue, which simply hadn't existed before."

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