Uruguay, Cuba and certain parts of Mexico allow abortion, though gestational limits vary. The majority of Latin American countries, however, allow abortions only in the case of rape or if the life or health of the woman is at risk. Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Suriname have total bans on abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Activists pushing to change the status quo haven’t always succeeded. But they see a growing movement that can push lawmakers toward progress on this front.
“There is no doubt that Latin America is moving forward on reproductive rights. On one side, most of the countries in the region have had discussions on abortion in the past 20 years and countries like Colombia, Chile and Guyana abolished their total bans on abortion,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“There are complex challenges, as well. Fundamentalist religious groups are pushing a political agenda against sexual and reproductive rights,” she said.
Here’s a rundown of key countries in the region.
The weekend’s protests in Mexico followed news that lawmakers in the state of Oaxaca had voted to decriminalize abortion.
“Votes such as the one in Oaxaca encourage the women’s movement around the region to promote legal changes,” Martínez said.
Abortion laws in Mexico are enacted at the state level. Abortion has been legal in Mexico City since 2007, but most states in the country allow the procedure only if the life of the woman is in danger. After the weekend demonstrations, the country’s ruling party announced Monday that it would present a bill in Congress to decriminalize abortion at the federal level. Though states would still have the final say, if the law is enacted, women could access abortion in the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy at federally run hospitals.
Argentina’s abortion rights activists suffered a blow in 2018 when a bill to legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy failed to clear the Senate. The decision was the culmination of months of protests to lift restrictions. Argentine law allows abortion only in cases of rape or if the woman’s health is in danger.
Even women and girls who are eligible under the law struggle to find access to abortion.
In February, the issue returned to the spotlight when a 11-year-old rape victim was denied an abortion despite the statute. The girl, called “Lucia” to protect her identity, begged officials for an abortion, asking them to “remove what the old man put inside me.” She had been assaulted by the 65-year-old partner of her grandmother.
Instead she was forced to undergo a Caesarean section 23 weeks into her term.
The news outraged activists, who said her abortion was denied to further the political agenda of the governor of the province in which she lived.
Now there is a renewed push to legalize abortion in Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, with protests and a new bill ahead of a presidential election later this month.
As in Argentina, abortion rights campaigns in Ecuador have been prominent but unsuccessful. Abortion is legal in Ecuador if the pregnancy poses a danger to the health of the woman or if a woman who is mentally disabled is raped. In September, protests erupted after a bill that would decriminalize abortion for all rape victims failed to clear the national assembly.
Abortion rights activists said the bill’s rejection would endanger lives. According to the Health Ministry, in 2014, women seeking illegal abortions accounted for 15.6 percent of maternal deaths.
El Salvador has one of the world’s strictest abortion laws. While Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Suriname and Haiti also have total bans on abortion, El Salvador’s legal system goes a step further, making it possible to charge a woman with aggravated homicide if she has an abortion.
As a result, women serve decades-long prison terms under this statute. Many of them say they were accused of having abortions even though they had miscarriages.
While some have been acquitted in the past year, others have not been as fortunate.
In September, officials announced they would retry Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz on counts of aggravated homicide for having an abortion, the country’s first retrial in an abortion case. Hernández was freed in February after serving 33 months of a 30-year sentence when an appeals judge said the prosecution did not provide adequate proof that she had intentionally terminated her pregnancy.
Hernández was found passed out, bleeding heavily, in an outhouse in 2016, having given birth to a stillborn baby boy.