An estimated 6.5 million abortions take place across Latin America each year. Three-quarters of these procedures are unlawful, often performed in unsafe illegal clinics or at home.
Of 33 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, only Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana permit elective abortions. Women also have the right to choose in Mexico City. Currently, abortions are allowed in Costa Rica only in order to preserve the life or physical health of the woman.
Elsewhere, however, the right to an abortion is severely restricted, with terminations often permitted in cases of rape, or if the pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother.
Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname all have a complete ban on abortion.
Activists consider Brazil a key battleground in the fight to decriminalize abortion in Latin America. Days before the crucial vote on abortion in Argentina, Brazil’s supreme court began hearings on allowing elective abortions through to the 12th week of pregnancy. Opposition to any loosening of existing laws – which currently ban abortions except in the case of rape or threat to a woman’s life – remains strong. Jair Bolsonaro, the leading conservative presidential candidate in Brazil’s forthcoming elections, has pledged to veto decriminalization attempts, while evangelical Christian members of Congress are pushing a rival bill that would make abortion illegal in all circumstances.
Last year, Chile removed its total ban on abortion, with terminations made legal in cases of rape, incest and where there is a danger to a woman’s health. A bill legalizing abortion up to 14 weeks has now been put before the Senate. Last month, three women were stabbed at a reproductive rights rally organised in favour of decriminalisation. President Sebastián Piñera has said he will oppose any attempts to further ease restrictions on terminations.
Earlier this year, Venezuela’s national constituent assembly, which has the mandate to update or reform the country’s national constitution, said it would debate the decriminalization of abortion. Abortion is currently only legal if a woman’s life is endangered.
In 2012, the country became only the second in the region after Cuba to decriminalize abortion for all women in the first trimester of pregnancy. It is considered a model for women’s reproductive rights.
In 2006, Colombia lifted its blanket ban on abortion. Terminations are now allowed in cases of rape, incest, fetal malformation, if the fetus is at risk, and if the physical or mental health of the mother is at risk.
Women can face up to 50 years in prison for having an abortion in El Salvador, which – like its neighbors Honduras and Nicaragua – maintains a total ban on abortion in any circumstance. All attempts to legalize abortion to save the mother’s life, or in cases of rape or incest, have failed. The success of conservative parties in legislative and municipal elections will effectively block any loosening of the ban in the near future.
Three years after Peru’s congress voted against broadening laws to allow abortion in cases of rape or incest, the government is facing calls to consider decriminalization.