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The World Takes Action to Decriminalize Abortion
For more than two decades, advocates in Latin America and the Caribbean have come together on September 28th to demand governments decriminalize abortion, provide access to safe and legal abortion services, and bring an end to the stigma faced by women who have had an abortion. This year, two decades of activism in Latin America and the Caribbean for el Día por la Despenalización del Aborto en América Latina y el Caribe underwent an international expansion, and transformed into a coalition of groups from countries all around the world who joined forces for the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion.
In our region, Latin America and the Caribbean have some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the world. Abortion is not permitted for any reason in seven of the 34 countries and territories in the region, and it is allowed only to save the woman’s life in eight others. Only six countries and territories permit abortion without restrictions, accounting for less than 5% of women aged 15–44 in the region.
These policies have major implications for the health and well-being of Latin American and Caribbean women and families. While policymakers may be under the impression that restrictive laws help curb abortion rates, the opposite is true. In places where abortion is illegal, women often turn to inadequately trained practitioners who employ unsafe techniques or attempt to self-induce abortion using dangerous methods. According to the World Health Organization, 95% of abortions in Latin America are unsafe, and one in eight maternal deaths in the region result from unsafe abortion.
This week, we have seen signs of progress in our region. On Wednesday, the Canadian Parliament voted 203 to 91 against M-312, a motion that sought to have a committee determine whether a fetus is a human life. While the motion was defeated, a victory would have severely threatened the legality of abortion in Canada, one of the few nations in the world with no legal restrictions on abortion.
A similar issue is currently being debated in Costa Rica, where legislation considers a human embryo to be a person from the moment of conception. As a result, in vitro fertilization is not permitted in the country since the procedure risks the loss of human embryos. A case involving Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilization is now under review by The Inter-American Human Rights Court, whose final decision could have consequences throughout the region for assisted reproductive technology, abortion, and contraceptive rights.
Two days ago, Uruguay’s Chamber of Deputies just barely passed a bill decriminalizing abortion with 50 to 49 votes. If approved by the Senate, which is expected to happen before the end of the year, the bill is set to become law. This important and controversial ruling would make Uruguay the only country in Latin America, besides Cuba, that allows abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy.
In the last five years, several monumental changes have occurred in the region, including the legalization of abortion in Mexico City and lifting the abortion ban in cases of anencephaly in Brazil. On this Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, we celebrate those successes and reaffirm our commitment to broadening access to safe and legal abortion in the region.
We continue to work to reduce women’s need to resort to clandestine procedures, to provide those who have unsafe abortions with post-abortion care, to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortions, and to promote comprehensive sexuality education and access to contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy. We do this because we believe that when you empower individuals and families with the information and services they need to make informed and autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, you create more sustainable and just communities.