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The Social Fight to End Unsafe Abortion

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 09/28/2021 - 19:00

During the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, numerous Mexican women took to the streets to demand access to legal abortion, which is not currently available in most of the country.

In Mexico, abortion has been recognized as a Constitutional right but of the country’s 32 states, only four—the capital, Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz—legally allow the interruption of pregnancy during the first 12 weeks of gestation or later if there is danger to the life of the mother or malformations in the fetus, among other reasons.

Access to legal, safe and comprehensive abortion care, including post-abortion care, is essential for the attainment of the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health, states WHO. The 1994 International Conference on Human Rights Tehran also stated that every individual has the right to decide freely and responsibly–without discrimination, coercion and violence–the number, spacing and timing of their children and the right to obtain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

Guttmacher Institute observed that between 2010 and 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean had the highest rate of unintended pregnancy of any world region—96 cases per 1,000 women aged 15–44. In the Caribbean, the rate was 116 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women. Statista found that in 2017, the number of unintended pregnancies in the region was of 57,674, leading to 26,682 abortions.

In Latin America, abortion is not permitted for any reason in six countries. Nine others allow it almost exclusively to save the woman’s life, with only some offering limited exceptions for rape (Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Panama) and grave fetal anomaly (Chile, Panama and almost half of the states of Mexico). Thus, fewer than 3 percent of the region’s women live in countries where abortion is broadly legal—that is, permitted either without restriction as to reason or on socioeconomic grounds.

Unsafe abortions might cause a range of problems that affect the quality of life and well-being of women, with some experiencing life-threatening complications. The major life-threatening complications are hemorrhage, infection and injury to the genital tract and internal organs. A study by BMJ Global Health found that abortion-related complications are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality among women in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. The study determined that around 7,983 women faced an abortion related complication inside the 70 health facilities around the region that were studied. “Complications were classified as mild (46.3 percent), moderate (49.5 percent), potentially life-threatening (3.1 percent), near-miss cases (1.1 percent) and deaths (0.2 percent).” In the study, it was also found that complications as a result of abortions account for 9.9 percent (8.1–13) of maternal deaths in the LAC region.

Aside from the health consequences, WHO found that the economic impact from treating deaths and affectations caused by an unsafe abortion also impacts health systems in developing countries. Estimates from 2006 show that in developing countries, treating complications from unsafe abortions cost for health systems US$553 million per year and US$6 billion for treating post-abortion infertility. While there is no updated data for the region, these figures represent a high expenditure for health systems when compared to their annual investment on healthcare. Mexico allocated MX$653.3 billion (US$32.8 billion) for healthcare in 2020.

Social changes in Mexico had escalated this public health matter to the Supreme Court, which recently decriminalized abortion. This decision establishes jurisprudence but that only means that local and federal judges will have to abide by that determination. "Today is one more step in the historic struggle for their equality, for their dignity and for the full exercise of (women’s) rights," said the President of the Court, Arturo Zaldívar.

Mexican feminist colectivas (collectives) continue to demand for abortion to be a guaranteed health right in Mexico., a cause that is being supported by large national and multinational organizations such as INMUJERES and the Global Fund for Women.

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Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst