The abortion debate was shaken to its core this week after a Salvadoran woman’s pregnancy found itself at the center of great controversy. The ill 22-year-old (known only as Beatriz to protect her identity) had asked courts in El Salvador for – and been denied – an abortion because of her high-risk pregnancy. Abortion is banned in El Salvador, as well as in many other areas of Latin America.
The issue of whether or not women should be granted the freedom to abort an unwanted pregnancy has long been a highly contentious subject in the United States. The same applies to Latin America.
Below is a brief summary of where the abortion debate stands in different areas of Latin America.
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A 22-year-old woman became the center of great controversy in her native El Salvador, known for being strictly against abortion. Doctors in the Central American country had long warned the young woman, who suffers from lupus, that if the pregnancy progressed, she could become seriously ill or even die. Her fetus had a birth defect called anencephaly and was reported to have almost no chance of survival. After the country’s Supreme Court had denied her an abortion, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights called on the government to help the woman and plans were set in place to induce the birth of the baby. El Salvador’s health minister María Isabel Rodríguez described the pregnancy interruption as “no longer an abortion” but an “induced birth.” Beatriz gave birth to her baby daughter, who died after being delivered by caesarean section.
Abortion is illegal in the Central American country. The rigid anti-abortion law went into effect in 2006 – before that year, exceptions to the rule existed in the cases of rape, malformation of the fetus and risk to the life or health of the mother. Miguel Obando y Bravo (pictured here), who is a Nicaraguan prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, was one of many who pressed for an abortion ban in the country, even helping to lead a march to the National Assembly for the repeal of the exception for what’s pegged as “therapeutic abortions,” which means pregnancies could be terminated (with the consent of three doctors) for therapeutic reasons.
In Chile, abortion is illegal under any circumstances, even in cases of rape or when a women’s life is in danger. Described as one of the strictest in the world, the law was established in 1989 by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Having an abortion can lead to 5 to 10 years in prison (depending on the circumstances), while doctors and those who perform the illegal procedure in Chile can face up to 15 years behind bars. The debate over abortion is so intense that a special phone line was even created in 2009 called Chile’s Safe Abortion Hot Line. Volunteers for the hot line (which has already been slapped with multiple lawsuits) follow a lawyer-approved dialogue and talk to women calling about the use of misoprostol, a medicine that is used to terminate pregnancies.
In 2012, Uruguay’s 31-member Senate approved a bill permitting women to undergo abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy for any reason. A woman who wants to have an abortion in Uruguay is required to explain her desire for one to a panel of at least three people (including a gynecologist, social worker and mental health professional). In turn, the panel is obligated to discuss health risks related to abortion and after the meeting, the pregnant woman has to reflect on her final decision for at least five days.
In 2012, the Caribbean country’s anti-abortion laws were placed under fire after a pregnant leukemia patient died of complications from her disease. Doctors in the Dominican Republic were hesitant to give the 16-year-old chemotherapy because such it could terminate her pregnancy (they later did, but the teen’s body did not respond to it). According to CNN, the teen’s mother Rosa Hernandez had been trying to convince doctors and the Dominican government to make an exception to the ant-abortion law for the sake of her daughter’s life, which was at risk. “My daughter's life is first. I know that (abortion) is a sin and that it goes against the law ... but my daughter's health is first,” Hernandez said.
Like Uruguay, Mexico City also granted abortion to be legal within the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy. In April 2007, the city’s legislature approved a bill to make the procedure legal within the federal district of Mexico – the vote was 46 to 19 with one abstention.
In 2006, Colombia’s highest court legalized abortion, under certain circumstances – before that, it was completed banned. The country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the procedure would be permitted when the life of the mother was in danger, or in cases of rape or incest.
Abortion is legal in Argentina in cases of rape or when a woman’s life is in danger. Still, in 2012, the nation's Supreme Court intervened in the case of a woman who said she had been kidnapped, forced into prostitution and raped.