Abortion in Latin America - Statistics & Facts

The “criminalization vs. legalization” of abortion has been one of the most controversial topics of the past decades. This subject presents a dilemma between the obligation of the State to ensure the right to life, to provide health policies and to respect its citizens’ sovereignty over their body. Abortion law emerged in the mid 20th century to regulate the practice of pregnancy termination. Especially in the developing world, induced abortions are a public health need that stems from a lack of proper contraceptive care and sexual education. A recent study estimated that the number of induced abortions was twenty times lower in regions with total contraceptive coverage than in those lacking coverage.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, public opinion concerning abortion is divided. In a survey conducted in 2018, over one third of Latin Americans said they were in favor of legalizing voluntary pregnancy terminations under certain circumstances (for example, rape). Moreover, nearly a quarter of the region’s population thought abortion should be allowed if a woman so decides, but another 30 percent of respondents answered that abortion should be, on principle, forbidden.

Laws regarding abortion and the severity of the situation vary from country to country. In Argentina, for instance, voluntary pregnancy interruption is only allowed under certain circumstances: in case of rape and if the woman’s health or life is in danger. Otherwise, induced abortion is still considered a crime, but that doesn’t stop the illegal and unsafe occurrence of the practice. Recent data showed that the demographic that is most affected by the deadly consequences of clandestine abortions are Argentinian women in their twenties.

Even so, Argentina is one of the Latin American countries with the highest percentage of population supporting abortion legalization: according to a survey, up to 59 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that this practice should be decriminalized. Another study showed that almost 40 percent of Argentinians believed abortion was the pregnant woman’s choice to make. Peru was on the other end of the spectrum, as around 40 percent of Peruvians participating in the survey thought abortion should be, as a rule, forbidden.

In Brazil, pregnancy termination is decriminalized in three situations: if the pregnancy is the result of rape, if performing an abortion is the only way to save the woman's life, or if the fetus suffers from anencephaly. In 2017, the number of post-abortion curettages performed in Brazil rose up to nearly 180 thousand. Most Brazilian women that had an abortion in 2016 were of brown ethnicity, Catholic and married or in a stable relationship.

In the case of Chile, abortion is legal in very few cases: if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, if the fetus is unviable, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape. In 2017, most legal abortions in Chile were performed because the fetus would not have been able to survive after birth. Remarkably, the number of people convicted due to illegal abortion in Chile has been steadily declining since 2012, reaching historical lows in recent years.

In Colombia, abortion is also decriminalized under very specific circumstances: when the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk, when the fetus will not survive the gestation (or if its disability would result in an unworthy life), and when the pregnancy is the result of rape, artificial insemination or the implantation of a fertilized egg. Oriéntame and Profamilia are two renowned organizations that assist with unwanted pregnancies in the country.

Finally, in Mexico, the legal status of abortion varies from state to state. Mexico City and most recently Oaxaca are the federal entities with the most progressive laws on the matter: pregnancy termination is decriminalized up to twelve weeks of gestation. Medical abortion is, by far, the most common practice to terminate pregnancies in Mexico City. A recent study showed that induced abortion was a decision mostly taken by Mexican single women. Even with its jurisdictional and 12-week period limitations, Mexico is one of the few Latin American countries that allow voluntary abortions without further restrictions regarding reasons or circumstances. Other countries in the region where this practice is legal and that do not impose this type of reason-based limitations include Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Uruguay.

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Abortion in Latin America

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