If you grew up in a Latin American country, you probably know that unwanted pregnancy is one of a woman's biggest fears.
In my country, the law regulating abortion dates back to 1972.
Bolivia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America. And while clandestine abortion is not the only reason, it is the third.
It is estimated that more than 150 women undergo clandestine abortions every day in a country of only 11 million people. Abortion is only legal in case of rape, incest, statutory rape and when the woman's life or health is at risk “if the danger cannot be avoided by other means”.
What happens if you do not meet these conditions?
When you need something, you find a way. This leads women into a painful and sometimes deadly process, often resorting to precarious, dangerous and clandestine methods.
But even women who meet the conditions often bypass the health system. The path to accessing legal abortion is fraught with enormous obstacles, including stigmatisation, blaming, lack of support and even attempts to make them change their minds. In 2016, Bolivian hospitals registered only 62 legal abortions. That same year, almost 60,000 clandestine abortions were performed, according to estimates by the international non-governmental organisation Ipas.
Teenage pregnancy is also a major issue in Bolivia and many unwanted pregnancies are due to sexual violence. The lack of knowledge on how to accompany the victims is alarming: a study by the Defensoría del Pueblo in 2020 revealed that 90 per cent of the medical staff interviewed in 44 public hospitals did not know under what circumstances it was legal to perform an abortion in Bolivia.
What is the situation in other Latin American countries?
While some countries such as Colombia have recently passed laws decriminalising abortion, others remain far from doing so.
This International Women's Day, Guatemala passed a new bill that sought to make women face up to ten years in prison if they decide to terminate a pregnancy when previously it was three years. Although it was eventually shelved, this situation shows that women are nowhere near obtaining the right to abortion in the country.
Legislation is even harder in other Latin American countries, where abortion is completely prohibited, regardless of the circumstances. El Salvador's legislation is so strict that even women facing an obstetric emergency risk going to jail and being charged with aggravated homicide.
A study published in The Lancet in 2018 showed that the proportion of abortions that can be considered "safe" appears to depend on the degree of severity of each country’s legislation. In Central America, only 18 per cent of abortions can be considered safe. In Northern Europe, it reaches 98 per cent.
The right to reproduce is also the right not to reproduce. Women's rights will truly improve when authorities will understand that abortion is a public health issue, not a moral one.