The Right to Decide: As LATAM Moves Forward, America Moves Backwards
While the trend in Latin America and the rest of the world is to expand reproductive rights as human rights, the trend in the United States is increasingly regressive.
Inspired by the feminist movements that have recently manifested themselves with the Chilean performance "Un violador en tu camino" (A rapist in your path), we wanted to review the state of the laws in favor of women's productive rights in Latin America and compare them with the United States. The conclusions are that in recent years the Latin American trend has been more progressive, at least on paper, and the North American one more regressive.
As this map shows, in which countries are marked to the extent that they have regulated abortion and where those that are completely restrictive appear in dark red, in light red those that only allow it when there is a risk to the life of the mother, in yellow are those that allow it in cases of fetal unfeasibility, risk to the mother or rape, in shades of green are those that also contemplate social or economic causes and in blue are those that allow it by request under any cause. As a side note, the global progress in the last 25 years has been remarkable.
Throughout the Americas, only Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana and the United States recognize abortion as a constitutional right accessible to women at their request. However, in the case of the United States, this right is later delimited by federal legislation — a move backwards.
Among the countries that allow abortion under three basic grounds are Brazil, Chile, Dominica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Colombia and Bolivia, in addition to allowing it in cases of rape, fetal unfeasibility or physical risk to the mother, have legislation that contemplates the care of the woman's mental health as a legitimate reason for requesting the performance of an abortion.
Finally, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have absolute bans on abortion. El Salvador is the most extreme case, where women who suffer miscarriages are prosecuted for aggravated homicide.
Now, it is one thing, in a long-range perspective, that the global trend is progressive; and another that women's current circumstances are one of freedom in the exercise of their rights. As an enormous collaborative study published by the Chilean newspaper El Desconcierto, shows, even in countries where abortion is legal in certain cases, this right is not guaranteed. One factor is how the right is contemplated in the law and another is that women who need the service get it, either by the precariousness of the health system of the regions in which they are, cultural pressures or systematic conscientious objection by doctors. This has lethal consequences as thousands of women in the region are pushed year after year to seek illegal and therefore unsafe abortions. In Brazil alone, to mention just one case, a woman dies every two hours from complications in clandestine abortion procedures.
Just as one is the general perspective and another when one puts the magnifying glass on Latin American countries, the vision changes when one sees in detail what is happening at the state level.
While abortion is considered a constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment from Roe v. Wade, the growing body of data pointing to the violation of this right is worrisome.
According to data from the NGO Reproductive Rights, 30 states force doctors to give inaccurate information to patients, 31 states require a waiting period of one to three days before the patient can receive the procedure after the first appointment with the doctor (which in many cases makes this impossible), and eight states have pending regulations that would prohibit abortion, given Roe v. Wade's potential overturn. A study by the same NGO, revealed in this digital tool, shows in the case of an overturn, the right to abortion would be protected in less than half of the United States and none of the overseas territories.
Perhaps the most regressive of the measures is in Ohio, where obstetricians could be in the dilemma of facing criminal charges for murder and having to perform a procedure considered impossible: the implantation of an extrauterine pregnancy in the uterus.
Meanwhile, a New York Times survey applied to all Democratic presidential candidates showed that they are increasingly determined to push for women's reproductive rights, no longer using the euphemisms so prevalent in past campaigns. It will dawn and we will see.