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Remembering Latin America & the Caribbean on Roe Anniversary
Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. This was a major victory for women and reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates in the U.S. because it finally placed the decision to terminate a pregnancy where it always belonged – between a woman and her doctor.
Before Roe, each state determined whether or not abortion was legal during the first trimester. As a result, a woman’s reproductive rights were often decided by where she lived—and the vast majority of women lived in areas where abortion was criminalized. However, as has been the case, women with the time and resources were able to travel to a state or country where abortion was legal. Women without this privilege – many of whom were poor and/or women of color – were left with limited options, including obtaining a back alley abortion, inducing their own abortion, or continuing an unintended pregnancy.
Despite the fact that abortion was legalized in 1973, anti-choice activists and legislators have steadily chipped away at women’s access to this right. Over the years, an alarming number of clinics have closed and several barriers – including medically unnecessary ultrasounds and mandatory waiting periods – have been instituted throughout the country. This shift means that more than half of U.S. women of reproductive age (15-44) live in states that were hostile to abortion in 2011.
While current abortion politics are bad in the U.S., they are even worse in the rest of our region. Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, and the consequence is as dire as it was in the U.S. pre-Roe. Currently, only six of the region’s 34 countries allow abortion without restriction. As a result, 95 percent of abortions in the LAC region are performed under unsafe circumstances. To put that in context, before Roe, nearly one-fifth of maternal deaths were due to illegal abortions. Over forty years later, the World Health Organization estimated that one in eight maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean are from unsafe abortions.
Although the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean are located within the same region, they are decades apart when it comes to reproductive rights. “While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars,” wrote Cora Fernandez Anderson in RH Reality Check. “It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait.”
And they have waited, but women in Latin America and the Caribbean are fighting back. Over the past several years, our Member Associations and other advocates in the region have worked tirelessly to make safe and legal abortion accessible for all women—and progress has been won. Recently, the Dominican Republic made history by decriminalizing abortion in certain cases. While this was a huge step forward, more needs to be done in the Dominican Republic and throughout the region to ensure that all women are able to terminate unintended pregnancies safely and legally.
Each day in Latin America and the Caribbean, women are denied their fundamental human right to make their own decisions regarding their bodies and their futures. In the world we want, when even one woman is denied the abortion care she needs that is too many. As we celebrate the anniversary of Roe in the U.S., we use it as a reminder about the important work that still needs to be done both here and abroad.