Abortion was banned in Chile in all instances during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and only permitted in 2017 in cases of rape, foetal inviability and risk to the woman’s life. The public will vote on the new constitution in September; if approved, it will become the first country in the world to give constitutional status to the right to abortion.
Last year, Mexico’s supreme court ruled the criminalisation of abortion unconstitutional, and invalidated a federal law that allowed health personnel to refuse to perform terminations on the grounds of “conscientious objection”.
This ruling means no woman can be imprisoned for ending her pregnancy, sets jurisprudence, and puts pressure on states to legalise abortion.
In fact, seven Mexican states have already legalised voluntary abortion up to 12 weeks, five of them in the last 18 months: Mexico City (2007), Oaxaca (2019), Veracruz, Hidalgo, Baja California, Colima (2021) and Sinaloa (2022).
Today, we can say that 37% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population of 652 million live in countries where women have won rights to legal abortion or are no longer imprisoned for terminating a pregnancy (including Cuba, Guyana and Puerto Rico). Five years ago, it was less than 3%.
None of this would have been possible without feminist activism, networks and demonstrations and public conversations about the autonomy of women.
In addition, thanks to feminist innovation and advances in medicine, the mortality rate from illegal abortions has been falling consistently. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of treatments for complications due to unsafe abortions fell by a third, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which also says that the use of the drug misoprostol “became more common throughout the region” and “appears to have increased the safety of clandestine abortions”.
Feminist innovation? It was Latin American feminists who first learned, in the early 1990s, that misoprostol was effective and safe for terminating pregnancies. Today, this drug is recommended by the World Health Organization and approved by health authorities in many countries.
They also launched a global day of action – now International Safe Abortion Day – a day of struggle that is observed around the world on 28 September.
But there’s more to do
However, despite these significant advances, millions still live in a horrendous reality. Abortion is completely banned in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Surinam. In El Salvador, women can face up to 50 years in prison if they have a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
In Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, abortion is allowed in limited circumstances – most commonly when the health or life of the woman is at risk. Belize and Bolivia also take into account financial and family hardship and, along with Brazil and Panama, rape and severe foetal abnormalities.
Raped girls and women are forced to give birth in the countries with total abortion ban, but also in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. In Ecuador, where parliament recently approved abortion in cases of rape, the president Guillermo Lasso has just partially vetoed the bill.