Knocked Up and Locked Out

Abortion is all but universally illegal in Latin America. In
Chile, for example, having the procedure can land a woman in jail
for up to five-years. Yet, the region has one of the highest
abortion rates in the world and, consequently, an equally
staggering rate of failure. Each year, an estimated 5,000 women die
as a result of clandestine abortions, and another 800,000 are
hospitalized (all totaled, that means about one-fifth of those who
pursue the procedure suffer complications).

According to Latin American scholars, such as Anibal Faundes at
the State University of Campinas in Sao Paulo, these high numbers
result in part from gender inequality in a culture that says women
should trust men unquestionably, even though those same men are not
held responsible for being sexually active. What’s more, while it’s
been proven that

family planning and legalizing abortion actually lowers abortion
rates
, many of the region’s leftist governments have left birth
control and reproductive rights off their progressive agendas,
often as a concession to the Catholic Church — which often helped
these same regime’s rise to power. In Brazil, which is one of the
countries where contraception is used most frequently,

only 50% of those women who consider themselves sexually active use
some form of birth control
. That number is closer to 18% in
Bolivia, according to the International Planned Parenthood
Federation.

In the 1960s, a study in Chile led researchers to conclude that
the typical Latin American woman averaged two or three abortions in
her lifetime. Today, with the improved access to contraception and
family planning, that regional average is down to 1.2, ranging from
one in Mexico to
almost two in Peru
. These numbers are still considered high,
though, since they are national averages and poor women are
disproportionately burdened.

Christina Alonso, a nurse at the Luna Maya birthing clinic in
Mexico, estimates that there are between one-half and one-million
abortions in Mexico annually. And while abortion is legal in cases
of rape or when a mother’s life is in danger, the application
procedures in Mexico are often too complicated to follow for poor
or illiterate patients — women who also happened to be pressed for
time. Last year in Mexico City, for instance, only 17 abortions
were approved.

Currently, abortion is legal only in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and a
few other Caribbean nations.

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