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Latin America's strict abortion laws

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 9 August 2018 18:01 GMT

2018An abortion rights activist holds a flare outside the Congress after senators rejected a bill to legalize abortion, in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

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A handful of countries, mostly in Central America, ban abortion under any circumstances

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Aug 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Argentina's decision to retain its stringent abortion laws has left Latin America and the Caribbean with some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

Argentine senators narrowly rejected a bill to legalise abortion after debate ran into the early hours of Thursday, overcoming support for a surging abortion rights movement.

Despite laws passed in the past decade to ease abortion laws, the procedure in most countries in the region is still only allowed in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother or foetus is in danger.

A handful of countries, mostly in Central America, ban abortion under any circumstances.

The issue of abortion deeply divides the Catholic-majority region, sparking heated debates.

The influential Roman Catholic Church and evangelical groups - from Brazil and El Salvador to Colombia and Mexico believe - abortion is a sin. They say that life begins at conception and laws must protect the rights of an unborn child.

Pro-choice activists say a woman should make decisions about her own body and point to the dangers of illegal abortion.

Pro-choice activists are now pinning hopes on Brazil, where the country's top court held hearings last week to consider whether to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Here are some key facts and figures for the region:

- Abortion is totally banned in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Suriname.

- In El Salvador, at least a dozen women are in jail for abortion-related crimes, serving prison sentences of up to 40 years. People helping women have an abortion also risk jail.

- Only in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City is abortion legal, allowing women to terminate unwanted pregnancies up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

- From 2010 to 2014, about 6.5 million abortions took place every year in the region, up from 4.4 million from 1990 to 1994.

- About 900 women died in the region as a result from unsafe abortions in 2014, many of them poor, rural women.

- About 760,000 women a year in the region are treated for complications from unsafe abortion, including infections and bleeding.

- Last year, Chile was the latest country in the region to overturn its complete ban on abortion. Women can now have the procedure when their life is in danger, when a foetus is unviable or when a pregnancy results from rape.

- Some 47,000 women die from botched abortions each year worldwide, accounting for up to 13 percent of maternal deaths.

Sources: World Health Organization, The Guttmacher Institute, The Citizen Group for the Decriminalisation of Abortion. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths.

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