Reproductive Rights in Latin America

By Kristina Hinz with additional text from Cecilia Maas

About 90% of women of reproductive age in Latin America and the Caribbean live in countries with laws that restrict abortion. In six of them – El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Suriname – voluntary termination of pregnancy is completely prohibited. The legalization does not even allow an abortion in order to save the life of the women or to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from rape.

Without permissive laws, women continue to resort to clandestine clinics, resulting in a significant number of complications and deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 95% of abortions in Latin America are carried out illegally and are therefore extremely unsafe. Until today, abortion remains one of the major causes of maternal mortality.

The backwardness of the region in terms of reproductive rights is, to a large extent, owed to the political power of ultra-conservative religious forces. Besides the traditional influence of the Catholic Church in the region, Neo-Pentecostal Churches were able to expand their role and political power significantly in the last decades. Particularly strong in Brazil and Central America, the political representation of Neo-Pentecostals is generally characterized though ultra-conservative positions in relation to the family, gender roles and, particularly, women’s reproductive rights.

This gloomy scenario has, on the other hand, configurated the region as one of the most the most important stages for the mobilization for women’s rights – especially those related to reproductive autonomy. In Brazil, Argentina and Chile, feminist movements have taken the streets and challenged the ultra-conservative forces that took a hold of women’s bodies and their autonomy of choice.

Since 2015, Brazilian women have taken to the streets and protested not only against the attack on their reproductive rights by fundamentalist forces, but of democracy altogether. Women of all social classes and ages are founding feminist collectives, demonstrating against attacks on their reproductive rights and social cuts under the administration of Michel Temer. In the first week of August, the Brazilian Supreme Court will discuss the unconstitutionality of the articles that currently criminalize abortion in Brazil. If this action is approved, abortion up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy will cease to be a crime in Brazil, regardless of the reason why the woman conducts the procedure.

In 2017, the massive mobilization of Chile’s women led to a small victory in the country that had one of the strictest abortion laws of the region, not allowing the voluntary termination of pregnancy under any circumstances. In August 2017, the Chilean congress passed a law that decriminalizes abortion under three circumstances: 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. However, Chile’s women have not left the streets after this partial victory. Thousands of people marched in Santiago demanding a “full, free, legal” abortion law and carrying signs saying “the rich pay for it, the poor blooded out”, despite provocations from opponents to the legalization, which included the stabbing of three women on the last demonstration.

In Argentina, the women’s movement stand very close before a history victory. In June, the lower house of Argentina’s congress has narrowly approved a bill that would legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The text for the bill was written by the women’s organizations that are driving the campaign for the legalization of abortion, and is supported by a massive movement of people on the streets. The Campaign estimates that 1 million people people demonstrated to support the bill on the day of the vote last June, and there have been demonstrations every Tuesday for the last couple of months.

The vote for the bill in the Argentian Senate on scheduled for the 8th of August, and the result is still very unclear what will happen. The numbers of votes “for” and “against” are very close and there is a chance that the bill will go back to the lower chamber for modifications, which would put at risk its approval.

In Berlin, you can show your support for the campaign by joining the rally on Wednesday, 8 August from 6pm at the Brandenburg Gate. . The writers of this article, Kristina Hinz and Cecilia Maas, will also be taking part in a forum in English on Reproductive Rights in Latin America, organised by the Berlin LINKE Internationals for 24 September 


Kristina Hinz is a Researcher at the Center for Studies on Inequalities and Gender Relations (NUDERG), State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). Cecilia Maas is an Argentinian woman currently living in Berlin.