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Activists hope lifting Chile's abortion ban sets example through Latin America

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 15:48 GMT

Demonstrators in favour of abortion celebrate after of the members of a Constitutional Tribunal ruled that a law legalizing abortion in certain cases is constitutional at Santiago, Chile August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Vera

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Six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have blanket abortion bans

(Corrects NGO in 9th para to Centre FOR Reproductive Rights, not Centre OF Reproductive Rights)

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Latin American countries should follow Chile's example and overturn absolute bans on abortion that put women's lives at risk in a region with some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, campaigners said on Tuesday.

Chile's Constitutional Court voted on Monday to lift the country's total abortion ban, allowing women to seek an abortion under limited circumstances - when their life is in danger, when a fetus is unviable or when a pregnancy results from rape.

Rights groups applauded the move, saying abortion bans are a leading cause of maternal deaths because they force women and girls to undergo dangerous backstreet procedures.

Six countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have blanket abortion bans - Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Suriname.

Campaigners said they hope these countries will follow Chile's example.

"I hope this creates a domino effect," said Dr. Guillermo Ortiz, a senior medical advisor with Ipas, a U.S.-based reproductive rights group.

"I know what a total ban on abortion does - it doesn't stop abortion but just makes it unsafe and puts women and girls at risk," he said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the World Health Organization, some 47,000 women die from botched abortions each year, accounting for almost 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide.

"We are hopeful that what happened in Chile can help and push other countries with current bills to ease abortion bans, like in El Salvador," Catalina Martinez, Latin America director at the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In socially conservative El Salvador, where abortion has been banned since 1997, a bill that would allow abortion under certain circumstances is expected to be debated by lawmakers within months, Martinez said.

Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic also are considering a bill to ease access to abortion, Martinez said.

In both countries, however, the moves are likely to face tough rides through the legislatures.

Vocal conservative lawmakers, along with the powerful Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups, oppose efforts to overturn such bans.

In El Salvador, the abortion ban also has put dozens of women behind bars, according to the Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Therapeutic, Ethical, and Eugenic Abortion, a local rights group.

Women have been convicted of murder and imprisoned when they suffered miscarriages, stillbirths or pregnancy complications, the groups says.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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