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This Is What Abortion Laws Look Like In Latin America

08/23/17 Raquel Reichard

On Monday, Chile’s constitutional court voted six to four in favor of a bill allowing abortion in some circumstances, dealing a major victory for women’s rights groups in the country.

For decades, Chile had one of the strictest abortion laws in the world, banning the procedure in all cases. Under the new legislation, women will be able to terminate pregnancies during instances when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is not viable or if the gestation occurred from rape.

“Today, women have won, democracy has won, all of Chile has won,” said President Michelle Bachelet, who introduced the bill in 2015.

Despite the country’s previous complete prohibition of the procedure, about 70,000 abortions still took place in Chile annually – all unlawfully, making the largely safe service hazardous. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, about 68,000 women die every year around the world as a result of unsafe and illegal abortions; millions more live with health problems.

With abortions now legal in some cases in Chile, fewer women will be forced to dangerously take matters into their own hands. Unfortunately, with the exception of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Uruguay, most countries in Latin America have complete bans or strict laws against abortions, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of women at risk.

Here, 16 countries with stringent anti-abortion laws throughout Latinoamérica.

1. El Salvador

El Salvador is one of the worst countries for abortion-seeking women worldwide. In the Central American country, the procedure is banned in all cases. Without legal option, the Ministry of Health estimates that 19,290 risky clandestine abortions took place in El Salvador between 2005 and 2008. If word gets out that a woman terminated her pregnancy – whether through speculation, gossip or if the woman seeks medical help for procedural complications – she risks jail time. The “crime” of an abortion, or even a falsely assumed abortion, is punishable there by up to eight years in prison. However, there have been cases where women received much higher sentences. The Alliance for Women’s Health and Life found that 147 Salvadoran women were charged with abortion-related crimes between 2000 and 2014, some given sentences as long as 40 years.

2. Honduras

In Honduras, abortion is also criminalized in all circumstances. Those who undergo a clandestine procedure face up to six years behind bars. Still, thousands take the chance – many of them girls and teens. According to Ipas, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions, 22 percent of hospital discharges that stem from abortion complications involved girls between the ages of 10 and 19 years old – many of them victims of rape. This year, there was a major push by Honduran feminist groups to loosen the country’s strict abortion laws. However, in May, a commission of lawmakers declined to even recommend that Congress make any change to its total ban.

3. Dominican Republic

Like El Salvador and Honduras, the Dominican Republic also has a total ban on abortions. Dominican women who are found guilty of having had the procedure face up to three years in prison, while the medical personnel who help provide the service can get up to 10 years behind bars. Despite the health and jail risk, several Dominican women still obtain clandestine abortions. In a study titled “Abortion Situation in the Dominican Republic,” Profamilia, a nonprofit reproductive rights organization, asked 2,436 students at different colleges in the country about abortions. Of them, 295 said they had undergone the unlawful procedure. Moreover, 67.1 percent said they knew a woman who administered a self-induced abortion on herself. While most people in the Caribbean country don’t believe women should have the right to choose an abortion, a CID Gallup Latin America from 2015 showed that 77 percent of Dominicans do favor abortions to save a mother’s life.

4. Nicaragua

Nicaragua also prohibits abortions in all cases. Like other countries on this list, its complete ban has not stopped women and girls from obtaining the procedure. Instead, it has made it unsafe. According to estimates from IPAS, at least 100 Nicaraguan women died over the past five years because they weren’t given legal, safe abortions. Those suspected of having an abortion face up to two years in prison, while those who helped administer one risk six years. Unlike in El Salvador, however, the state doesn’t usually forcefully go after people who had the procedure. Many times, the biggest punishment comes from within one’s community. Oftentimes, relatives and medical personnel denounce women and girls they suspect had abortions. According to police reports from 2003 to 2013, 290 people during this time were either denounced or detained for seeking an abortion.

5. Guatemala, Venezuela and Paraguay

Most countries in Latin America have strict abortion laws, but many don’t have total bans. In Guatemala, Venezuela and Paraguay, for instance, the procedure is lawful only in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

6. Peru and Costa Rica

In Peru and Costa Rica, abortions are only legal when the mother’s life or health are in danger.

7. Ecuador

Like in Peru and Costa Rica, abortions are legal in Ecuador when the mother’s life or physical health are at risk. However, in the South American country, the procedure is also legal when someone who is mentally challenged becomes pregnant from rape.

8. Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Panama

While abortions aren’t legal in all cases, laws in Bolivia, ArgentinaBrazil and Panama allow abortions when the mother’s life and physical health are at risk and in cases of rape (not exclusive to the mentally challenged). In Bolivia, Argentina and Panama, it is all acceptable when pregnancies result from incest.

9. Mexico and Colombia

While abortions aren’t lawful under all circumstances in Colombia and Mexico, these countries are among the most progressive with its reproductive health laws. In Colombia, for instance, the procedure is legal in cases of rape, incest, fetal complications or when the mother’s health or life is in danger. In Mexico, the laws vary from state to state. All Mexican states permit abortions in cases of rape, most allow it when the mother’s life may be harmed and some accept it if there are severe fetal deformities. Only in Mexico City are abortions completely legal during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.


READ: Texas Just Made It Harder For Undocumented Latinas To Get A Safe Abortion

Let us know what you think of Latin America’s stringent abortion laws in the comments!

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