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Abortion Policies In Latin America, Caribbean Hampering Progress In Ensuring Women’s Reproductive Rights

“In the last decade, several countries in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region have had the opportunity to experience economic growth and establish redistributive fiscal policies aimed at reducing poverty, reducing inequality and improving the coverage and quality of health, education and social protection services,” Purnima Mane, president and CEO of Pathfinder International, writes in an Inter Press Service opinion piece. “And yet significant gaps exist in the area of reproductive health and rights, both between countries and as a whole, when it comes to some of the key objectives of the Cairo Programme of Action,” she states. She highlights an overall decline in the region’s maternal mortality ratio, “one of the basic indicators of reproductive health,” noting “there are significant inequities between countries,” and she writes, “A significant proportion of maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions, which represent a serious public health concern in the region.” She discusses laws on abortion in various countries in the region, noting, “Abortion is only legal in six countries, and together, these countries account for less than five percent of the region’s women aged 15-44.”

“The conclusion is clear: universal access to reproductive health is still far from being a reality in the LAC region,” Mane states. “Looking specifically at the seven components of the program of action, the LAC countries have achieved much higher rates of contraceptive prevalence than Africa or Asia as a whole,” she continues, and provides examples. “As I said before, the LAC countries have brought down their collective maternal mortality rate,” she notes. “However, in other key areas of the program such as expression of and protection for sexual and reproductive rights including access to safe abortion, post-abortion care, and expression of gender identity or sexual orientation, the LAC region continues to be challenged,” she writes, noting “the lack of progress in ensuring reproductive rights and access to safe abortion in particular comes from the fact that a large number of LAC countries stated formal reservations to many of the rights components in the Programme of Action, including concern over abortion, a national belief and/or laws asserting a need to protect life from the moment of conception, and concern over alternate expressions of family beyond that of formal marriage between a man and a woman.” She concludes, “These reservations have continued to hamper progress in these areas and produced the situation we see today in this region” (8/6).