Abortions not safe, legal or rare in Latin American and the Caribbean



Seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean — El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Suriname, Dominican Republic and Haiti — do not allow abortions for any reason, not even to save the life of the mother, according to Jennifer Friedman, senior program officer of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Women who are suspected of having abortions are prosecuted and often sentenced to prison. One such woman is Glenda Xiomara Cruz, 19, of El Salvador, who, on Oct. 30, 2012, miscarried her baby and is now serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated homicide.

Cruz is the mother of a 4-year-old girl. Her abusive partner testified against her in court.

Both PBS and BBC have reported that the prosecution relied heavily on that man’s testimony of her guilt.

A chilling story in The Miami Herald on Nov. 23, contained the following paragraph: “Abortion is illegal in Haiti, but women and girls are losing their uteruses and their lives as they turn to clandestine, increasingly deadly ways to terminate their pregnancies. These unsafe abortions are leading to a public-health crisis in a region with one of the world’s highest rates of unintended pregnancies, experts say.

And this: “Haiti’s health ministry, which has sought to take charge of the abortion debate, has estimated that unsafe abortions account for 20 percent to 30 percent of maternal mortality. But the reality is, the annual number of abortion-related deaths is unknown.”

The reality is that women in the Americas are having abortions, whether they are legal or not. The estimated number of abortions in Latin America increased slightly between 2003 and 2008, from 4.1 million to 4.4 million, according to a report released last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health think tank in the United States.

Of those millions of abortions, 95 percent were not considered safe, which means they were most likely not conducted by professionals or took place in unsanitary, and therefore dangerous, conditions (think coat hangers and mysterious potions, think U.S. pre-Roe v. Wade in 1973).

Not surprisingly, most of the women who seek the help of unqualified “doctors” for their abortions are poor. The number of Latin American people living in poverty in 2013 grew to around 164 million, according to a just released report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America; 68 million live in extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is one of the preoccupations of the man Time magazine has chosen as Person of the Year, Pope Francis. In late November, he strongly criticized free-market global economies for perpetuating inequality and emphasized that the church needs to stand with the poor and the disadvantaged.

Being from Argentina, he understands well the needs of this region. He knows the link between poverty and everything else that ails the continent, and he knows the influence that the church still exerts in Latin America.

Though the anti-abortion laws are matters of the state, it is undeniable that the church exerts a strong influence in the countries where the laws are most punitive against women.

And yet, when asked, the pope has said there is no need to obsess over these issues. Last September he told an interviewer that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues even if his critics, from the conservative wing of the church, wanted him to.

Fair enough.

But there is a need to talk about changing the laws that make sacred temples of ordinary women’s bodies. The bodies are ours; the lives that are lost every year in the name of the sanctity of life are also ours. Why are the lives of unborn children more precious than the lives of their 13-year-old mothers? In Chile, in July, former President Sebastian Pinera praised a pregnant 11-year-old victim of rape who said she was planning to have her baby. He called her deep and mature.

Birth control is a safer, less controversial topic, or it ought to be. Latin America and the Caribbean have the second highest pregnancy rate among adolescents in the world. Not surprisingly, among the most common causes of death among adolescents in the region are early pregnancy and abortion, according to figures from UNICEF.

These are not the times to remain neutral or quiet. Pope Francis is right, let’s not obsess over topics like abortion or birth control. But let’s be vigilant and let’s be proactive. The governments in Latin American and the Caribbean ought to follow Pope Francis’ lead on thinking about the poor and the weak first, especially if the poor and the weak are adolescent girls who don’t want to become mothers just yet.

“It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” the pope recently wrote. “On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations.” He specifically pointed to rape or extreme poverty as examples of those difficult situations, all too typical in the region.

Let’s grab that other hand, the one Pope Francis is extending. It’s a start.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Ray Rice’s fans are too quick to forgive

    “I think they’re going too far with Ray Rice.”



    Rice targeted unfairly by media

    I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence, but I’ve loved people who have been. I say “people” because some of the victims have been men, despite the general “Burning Bed” stereotype of the muscled brute beating the living daylights out of the 100-pound female. Violence is violence, victims are victims and abusers are abusers regardless of gender, color, religion, and affluence. This is an equal opportunity horror.

  • Civil unrest can happen in Miami-Dade

    America’s urban cores have, in many cases, been abandoned by the powerful, dissected by highways that destroy a feeling of community and neglected in the apportionment of educational opportunities. The combination of external neglect and internal dysfunction has engendered explosive conditions — an undercurrent of anger that is easily made into a combustible mixture by the use of deadly force, typically involving a white police officer and a black citizen.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category