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What Ireland’s Abortion Referendum Means for Latin America

Countries in the Region Should Ease Abortion Restrictions

Women’s rights demonstrators take part in a protest in front of National Congress while an abortion bill is debated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 10. © 2018 Reuters

Last week, when 66.4 percent of Irish voters stunned the world by voting to end the country’s ban on abortion, it gave many hope that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean—which have some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws—would join the global trend towards easing abortion restrictions.

Just last year Chile ended its longstanding total abortion ban, allowing the procedure if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, or if the fetus will not survive outside the womb.

Lawmakers in Argentina are debating several bills to decriminalize abortion, which is currently illegal except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk. Today, I will testify before the Argentine Congress in support of decriminalizing abortion, arguing that the move is essential in order for Argentina to meet its obligations under international human rights law.

Next month in Brazil—where abortion is a crime except in cases of rape, when the life of the woman is at risk, or the fetus has a fatal congenital brain disorder—the Supreme Court will hear a case calling for full decriminalization of abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Yet too many countries in the region remain stubbornly committed to cruel abortion policies. Nicaragua is the world’s only country to reduce—rather than expand—legal access to abortion in the last 18 years. Last month, El Salvador’s national legislature adjourned without voting on proposals to ease the country’s total abortion ban. They are among the region’s six countries still banning abortion in all circumstances. The others are Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Suriname.

The consequences of these restrictions are dire. Approximately 760,000 women and girls are treated for complications from unsafe abortion, and about 900 die, in Latin America and the Caribbean each year. Evidence shows that restricting access to abortion does not decrease it—it just makes it less safe.

For too long, Latin America and the Caribbean has been known for harsh restrictions on reproductive rights—restrictions that deny women and girls control of their own bodies, and too often cost them their lives. Like staunchly Catholic Ireland, they should abandon that harmful and discriminatory status quo.     

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