[Last month was] the 40th anniversary of one of the most important legal decisions of [the US]: Roe v. Wade.
This legislative victory changed the course of history for women not only in the United States, but also throughout the world. It provided a framework for sexual and reproductive rights used by advocates from San Francisco to Santiago, and the past year yielded significant progress on abortion rights in Latin America.
For decades, advocates in Latin America have come together to demand that 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.
The region has some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in the world. Abortion is not permitted for any reason in seven of Latin America’s 34 countries and territories, and it is allowed only to save the woman’s life in eight others. Only six countries and territories permit abortion without restriction, accounting for less than five percent of women aged 15 to 44 years old.
These policies have major implications for the health and well being of Latin American women and families. While policymakers may be under the impression that restrictive laws help curb abortion rates, research shows the opposite is true. In places where abortion is illegal or heavily restricted, an unwanted pregnancy leaves women with two options: seek out a clandestine abortion that could be unsafe or continue a pregnancy that was neither chosen nor planned for. Both options have detrimental economic, social and health consequences.
According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America are unsafe and one in eight maternal deaths in the region result from unsafe abortions. Nearly half of sexually active young women in Latin America and the Caribbean have an unmet need for contraception that would enable them to prevent unintended pregnancy.
Women who are poor and live in rural areas are disproportionately affected. One tactic taken by civil society advocates to address these critical issues has been to make obtaining abortion rights a priority, but this doesn’t always happen.
In the last weeks of 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturned a ban on in-vitro fertilization in Costa Rica, saying human embryos and fetuses could not be granted protection under the American Convention on Human Rights. In-vitro fertilization has not been permitted in Costa Rica since the country’s legal system considered a human embryo to be a person from the moment of conception and the procedure risks the loss of human embryos.
This decision could have consequences throughout Latin America not only for assisted reproductive technology, but also abortion and contraceptive rights in countries where restrictions are based on the protection of embryos and fetuses.
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*Reported from: reclaimingthelatinatag