In-Depth: A Look At Latin America's Harsh Anti-Abortion Laws

“Midwives help us, even knowing their risk,” Aracely told me. To finish a stalled miscarriage, her neighborhood midwife suggested a high dose of mejoralito (a children’s fever medicine) mixed with herbs and a dark beer or Coca-Cola. Going to Mexico City was another option, but traveling there is expensive. Most common, Díaz de León of GIRE told me, was taking misoprostol—over-the-counter pills for ulcers that can also cause abortion, but can lead to severe hemorrhaging. If I took them and something went wrong, I’d risk jail if I went to a hospital—and if I didn’t, something worse could happen. 

Díaz de León’s next words raised the hair on my arms: “Only in one case did we see a woman who used a coat hanger.” 

This cut to the heart of the issue—and to why I’d seen the spray-painted slogans around my town, Nosotras parimos, nosotras decidimos (We give birth, we decide!) and Aborto Legal, Ya! Because outlawing abortion doesn’t mean women here don’t have abortions—it just means they have illegal, unsafe ones. 

The abortion rate is actually much higher in Latin America than in the U.S., studies say: in Peru, where abortion is allowed only to save a woman’s life or avoid serious injury, women average two abortions each over their lifetime. In Argentina, an estimated 40 percent of pregnancies end in abortion. 

That’s millions of women each year taking misoprostol or trusting a bottle of fever medicine with mystery herbs—or a coat hanger. The World Health Organization says more than one million women across the region end up in the hospital from illegal abortion complications each year. According to the WHO, 1,000 of these women die.