Total Abortion Bans In Latin America Risk Women's Lives

nicaragua woman doctor

Countries around the world that strictly deny women’s access to abortion, including when such access could save their lives and health, also tend to have the highest rates of maternal mortality.

Most Latin American countries criminalize abortions, forcing girls and women to resort to unsafe, clandestine abortions.  According to the World Health Organization, “Death due to complications of abortion is not uncommon, and is one of the principal causes of maternal mortality” and of an estimated 300,000 hospitalizations.

Globally, unsafe abortion – defined by the World Health Organization as termination of a pregnancy by providers lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not meet minimal medical standards – claims the lives of more than 47,000 women annually.  In Latin America, unsafe abortions account for 12%, or the fourth most common reason, of what would otherwise be preventable maternal deaths.

September 28th marks the 21st anniversary of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) Campaign for the Decriminalization of Abortion aimed to bring human rights and health advocates together to address the public health and human toll of unsafe abortion in the region.

Since then, the region has seen some progress.  In May 2006 Colombia’s constitutional court decided that banning abortion violates the fundamental human rights of women.  The court ordered that the procedure be available to girls and women who suffered rape or incest, in instances where the pregnancy poses a threat to their health or life, and when fetal malformations make it incompatible with life outside the womb.

Yet, in 2008, Nicaragua imposed a total criminal ban on the potentially life-saving procedure.  Since the ban came into effect, more women have died due to unsafe abortion and obstetric complications.  And in 2009, the Dominican Republic passed a constitutional amendment that likewise bans abortion in all cases.  Only 3% of the world’s countries and a handful of Latin American countries impose such absolute abortion bans.

The lives, health and wellbeing of women across Latin America are threatened by these policies.  Last year Amnesty International called on Nicaragua to provide cancer treatment to a pregnant woman and sole caregiver of her 10-year old daughter who was denied life-saving treatment because of a law that bans abortion in all circumstances.   The Nicaraguan authorities prevented doctors from providing life-saving cancer treatment to the 27-year old women because medical staff could face prosecution if they cause harm to the fetus during her treatment, even if the harm is caused unintentionally.

According to Amnesty International’s report, The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua, the complete ban on abortions is a serious obstacle to best practice decision-making by health care providers when dealing with obstetric complications. The law also prevents victims of violence to terminate pregnancies that resulted from rape and incest, which overwhelmingly affect girls under 17 who make up two thirds of rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 and those under 14 who account for nearly half of these cases.

Marta Solay Gonzalez, the face of the Colombian court challenge, was diagnosed with uterine cancer during the early stages of her pregnancy.  Treating her fast-spreading cancer would have saved her life but would terminate the pregnancy. No doctor dared risk prosecution to help her.  By the time the court issued its watershed decision her cancer has metastasized and she died within a year.

Even after the court decision in Colombia, women face obstacles in accessing the procedure when necessary.  The mother of a 14-year old Colombian girl who was raped and impregnated had to fight in court to get her daughter access to a termination.

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights, along with other international human rights bodies, have recognized girls’ and women’s human right to therapeutic abortions.  Amnesty International calls for the repeal of all laws that criminalize or provide for the imprisonment of women and girls who have sought or had an abortion.  Latin American women must be guaranteed basic rights to health, life, dignity and non-discrimination, and not be subject to life threatening and abusive state policies.

You can learn more about sexual and reproductive rights as part of the broader context of all human rights, as well as other issues of women’s human rights.

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8 thoughts on “Total Abortion Bans In Latin America Risk Women's Lives

  1. Total bans violate the most fundamental rights of women. It is incredible that women's lives and health can be sacrificed in the name of lawyers of assumptions. Most women who have abortions are already mothers that need to continue being mothers to the human beings they have to take care of on earth. But of course, anti-choice have never really cared about children, and even less about the women who take care of them.

  2. Total bans violate the most fundamental rights of women. It is incredible that women’s lives and health can be sacrificed in the name of lawyers of assumptions. Most women who have abortions are already mothers that need to continue being mothers to the human beings they have to take care of on earth. But of course, anti-choice have never really cared about children, and even less about the women who take care of them.

  3. In my personal opinion, abortion should really be banned. Not only that it risks women's lives, it also promotes killings of unborn innocent children. But on the other hand, as said by dongguan, it will lead to illegal and unsafe abortion. It has it's own ups and downs!

    • hm! I do not agree. some women get raped, and not knowing who he father is, or has an STD, not to mention condoms getting reaped with couples having sex, and the male partner gives her grief about being on BC because it will destroy her body in the long run. Some women face soooo many complications and can't carry the baby till the last trimester. I know this has happened. Also, it will rid of starving kids especially in poor regions. Would you want your sis to die of complications, or your mun to die and leave you behind at a young age? Or your lady to suffer like that throughout her pregnancy?

      O I know, don't give up the va jj to those who think that there should an abortion ban.

      What if it you as the man is not ready to have a child, or do not want to have one?

      I'd rather not have one than to have one that is starving for years, and not properly clothe for years, or shelter in a box or a tent for years and have no means to get out of the hole with my little one. My opinion Julio. I DETEST SUFFERAGE. In most cases women are left with the baggage and men move on. When the men are involved, they can't take care of them, or refuse to. Poor kids. I know the kids are innocent, but some moms leave them for others to care for them because they din't want them. Then that person abuses that kid like I have seen in my extended family happen, and that includes sexual abuse, and that child is given to live in an 8 by 8 wooden dog house i call it while the others are inside a real house next to that kid. And, that kid finds his own food to cook, washes his own clothes, and works for the family in the plantation and gets a few bucks for the month. At only 7 years old. Kids end up in situations like this and worse, even when the mom carries them for 9 months. I can go on about this. I hate suffering of anyone.

      I am not attacking you by the way. I like to male people think.

  4. This will always be a problem but I can never understand how someone can choose sending a woman to her death instead of letting hr have an abortion.

  5. This is a big problem. Leaving aside the obvious reasons like a woman's right to do what she wants with her body, the medical problems that could arise are very big.