Even though abortion is illegal in almost all countries in the region, most countries allow criminal penalties to be waived or lowered in specific circumstances, including -most often- where the life or health of the pregnant woman is in danger, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. The only countries were abortion is legal are: Puerto Rico, Cuba, three countries of the French Antilles, French Guiana, Guyana and Barbados. Abortion is totally illegal in Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Saint Martin (Netherlands Antilles), Dominican Republic and recently Nicaragua.
The prohibition or severe restriction of abortion has not hindered its practice but instead it has forced high risk abortions that hit poor women harder. Large part of the legislations in Latin America have tried to solve the problem of abortion through prohibition, meaning grave economic, social, health and social justice consequences for the women living in these countries while there is no fall in the high abortion rate that exists in the region. Because of this, it is essential to review the laws that regulate induced abortion.
Anguilla (British overseas territory)
Abortion is regulated in the “crimes against people” law and it gives the following exceptions: if it is performed in good faith, in a hospital, by doctors and with the recommendation of other doctors stating that continuing with the pregnancy poses risks to the life of the woman or physical or mental damage to her. There is also an exception in cases of serious body or mental malformations of the fetus.
Antigua and Barbuda
Abortion is permitted in this country to preserve the life of the woman according to the Protection of the Life of the Child Law (1929) which was then amended in 1938 by the judges, to include "the quality of life of the woman" that is described both as physical and mental health (Pheterson y Azize Vargas,2005). Abortions beyond 16 weeks of pregnancy are not allowed and an authorization of a Committee of doctors is required in all cases.
In Argentina abortion is illegal and is the first cause of maternal death. The law establishes sanctions both for the woman and for the person that practices the interruption (articles 85, 86, 87 y 88 of the Penal Code). The same law established an exception established in 1921 for two special cases: 1. when the life or health of the woman is at risk, 2. when the pregnancy is the result of the rape of an "idiotic or insane woman" (article 86, numbers 1 and 2 of the Penal Code). However, these exceptions are rarely put into practice; doctors refuse to practice abortion due to their own religious beliefs.
The penal code of Bahamas does not penalize abortion if the health or life of the woman is at risk. No reference is made to abortion when the pregnancy is the result of rape. The sanction for induced abortion is 10 years of prison.
The Penal Code of Belize (1980) penalizes abortion with 14 years of prison both for the woman and for whoever practices it. Only two exceptions are established: a) when the health or life of the woman is at risk, b) when the foetus presents malformations. Both cases require a registered doctor to perform the interruption, and the authorization of two other doctors.
The new Magna Carta (January 2009) contains provisions that strengthen women's rights although it falls short on abortion and same-sex marriage or civil unions. On the positive side, article 14 prohibits discrimination based on sex, gender identity, or sexual preference. And article 15 contains language against familial and gendered violence. Article 48 guarantees equal remuneration for men and women with the same job.
The constitution also requires equal participation of women and men in Bolivia's Congress. However, the document defines marriage and civil unions as an act between a man and woman. It also vaguely "guarantees men and women the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights," but does not specifically tackle the issue of abortion, which remains illegal in Bolivia.
Abortion is the third cause of maternal death. It is regulated under the Penal Code that dates from 1940. It is permitted only in the cases were the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or when it puts the life of the pregnant woman at risk (necessary abortion). There are a number of obstacles to the practice of abortion in public health services, the first of which is that women do not know their rights and the second is the doctor's refusal to do what is required. In the last few years, one of the most important steps forward in the discussion has been the presentation in parliament of a new law that legalizes abortion in certain cases submitted by the government in 2005. The new proposal suggests that the Public Health System (Sistema Unificado de Salud Pública, SUS) as well as the privately-owned health services cover the costs of abortion. Even though the law project began to be discussed in 2005, the great tension that arose provoked not only a change in strategy to modify its content but also a stand-still in the debate.
In July 2008, a commission that worked under the Deputy Chamber of Brazil's parliament voted almost totally against the new project law to legalize abortion.
The Cayman Islands are part of the UK. In this country, an amendment to the Penal Code (Act No.12, 1975) permits abortion if there is proof that it was performed in "good faith", with the only purpose of preserving the life of the mother and always performed by an authorized professional.
Abortion is here the first cause of maternal death. Until 2007, abortion was fully penalized in Chile, without any exceptions. It is considered a public health problem that affects mainly poor women. Laws against abortion can be found in the Penal Code in articles 342 A and 245 under the title: "Crimes against the Family Order and the Public Morale" and they are considered to be one of the most restrictive in the world. Therapeutic abortion was permitted under the Health code from 1931 to 1989; in this period, any woman that risked her life with her pregnancy could request an abortion if she had the approval of two doctors. In 1989, the military dictatorship ruled out therapeutic abortion provoking the rage of feminist movements that were publicly against this ban that violates women's human rights. Presently, the Chilean law considers the woman and the value of her life as a legal asset, subordinated to the fetus. This approach is strengthened by the Constitution of 1980 that in the article on People's rights states the protection of the "life of the one to be born", separating the life of who conceives the fetus from its freedom to decide whether being pregnant or not.
In November 2006, a proposal of legalization of abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy presented by the deputies Alinco and Enríquez-Ominami was rejected. This project was an attempt to offer answers to a problem of health, human rights and social justice.
Later on, the Chilean Ministry of Health approved the fertility regulation laws that were an important step forward in the sense that it offered practical answers that are respectful of human rights. The law includes public access to wide contraceptive methods including the "morning-after" pill. The law was resisted by religious and political groups at the Constitutional Tribunal in December 2006.
In January 2007, the president Michelle Bachelet signed a decree allowing the free distribution of the emergency contraception - between 14 and 18 years of age - without consent of the parents. However, in April 2008, the Constitutional Tribunal banned the free distribution of the emergency pill in public hospitals. .
Abortion is the second cause of maternal death. In 2006, the Constitutional Court of Colombia legalized abortion for three special cases: when the life or health of the woman is at risk, in case of rape, and/or when the foetus presents malformations that are not compatible with extra uterine life.
The 13th of December 2006, the Colombian government issued the 4444 decree that is considered an essential step forward to guarantee clear access to abortion services. This instrument will reassure the availability of the abortion services in all the country in the cases and conditions stated in the sentence and will be applied to all the population whether it is affiliated or not. Additionally, the decree establishes that no administrative barriers can be imposed to delay the abortion nor the doctors may object by moral reasons to perform it. Quality standards are also regulated by the decree.
In Costa Rica abortion is considered a crime. This may be explained by the fact that the Constitution of Costa Rica establishes that the religion of the State is that of the Roman Catholic Church and that the clergy can participate in all issues related to sexuality and reproduction (article 75). However, article 121 of the Penal Code authorizes therapeutic abortion when the health and life of the woman is at risk.
Cuba was the first country to sign and the second to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Abortion is legal in the country since 1965, recognizing it as a woman's right. The maximum period of time to file for legal abortion is 10 weeks of pregnancy, from that moment onwards abortion is only legal if the health of the woman is at risk. Abortions practiced outside the public health system are penalized.
This small island, situated at the south of Puerto Rico, allows abortion only to save the life of the woman.
With a new health reform, the government of Ecuador is promoting free access to contraceptives and enforcement mechanisms for doctors to interrupt pregnancies in some cases: when the life of the woman is at risk, in cases of abortion in course o when the pregnancy is the result of rape of a mentally ill woman. Access to different methods of contraception will not require consent of the parents (in case of girls under 18) nor of the partner. "The State recognizes maternal death, teen pregnancy and abortion under risk as public health problems, guaranteeing access to public health services without cost as stated in the Free Maternity Law". September 2006.
Legislation is exactly the same as in The Bahamas.
Abortion is illegal except to protect the life of the woman.
In this country, former French colony, abortion is only legal in order to save the life of the woman. Illegal abortion penalizes with prison both the woman and whoever practices it.
In 1997, the laws adopted by parliament that decriminalized abortion for therapeutic, eugenic or juridical reasons were repealed by decree. On the other hand, in May 2009, the President of the Republic of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, finally vetoed a measure voted by Congress that aimed to prohibit and criminalize the emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) or morning-after pill.
There are only two exceptions: in order to save the woman's life or to preserve her physical and mental health.
On Nov.16, 2009 the legislature of the Mexican coastal state of Veracruz passed a law declaring that life begins at conception and ends at natural death. Veracruz now becomes the 17th state in Mexico to criminalize abortion in a string of hotly contested and reactive measures set off by Mexico City's April 2007 legalization of abortion.
From October 19, 2006, abortion is illegal in all cases. The Secular State has been established in Nicaragua since the Zelaya Liberal Revolution (1893) but therapeutic abortion was legalized even before. Up until October 2006, the Penal Code permitted therapeutic abortion in article 143.3: "the need to interrupt pregnancy for therapeutic reason will be determined scientifically by at least three experts. Therapeutic abortion will not be penalized" and was allowed in cases when the life of the woman was at risk. Any other type of abortion was prohibited and severely punished. In October 2006, the archbishop and members of the evangelical churches claimed for the elimination of therapeutic abortion from the Penal Code in search of full penalization.
In October 2006, the clergy and other members of the evangelical church called for the elimination of the therapeutic abortion laws seeking for a full prohibition instead. However, in October 2006 a call for a complete ban came from the Roman Catholic and evangelical churches that aimed to eliminate from the Penal Code the article that allows legal abortion in cases where the woman's life is at risk. Yielding to this pressure, the Parliament's judicial commission approved the modification putting Nicaragua in the list of Latin American countries in which abortion is completely banned. Nicaragua’s blanket ban on abortion, which criminalizes life-saving medical treatment, has had a devastating impact on women’s health and lives, according to a report by Human Rights Watch on the consequences for human rights that the ban triggered.
The attacks promoted by the Nicaraguan government against the defenders of women’s human rights have not been limited to legal proceeding against them, but are being expressed in ongoing persecution and direct threats against their lives and the lives of their families.
The Penal Code of Panama (1982), establishes three cases in which abortion is not penalized: ethical- in case of rape or incest; therapeutic - to save the life of the pregnant woman; in case of foetal malformations. (Cumbrera Díaz, 1997).
Abortion legislation in Paraguay has remained unchanged since 1937. Abortion is illegal in all cases except when the life of the woman is at risk.
In Peru, abortion is illegal in all cases except when the life of the woman is at risk or to avoid health complications. However, the fact that the Peruvian government does not guarantee access to therapeutic legal abortion constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights. The report by Human Rights Watch released in July 2008: "My Rights, and My Right to Know: Lack of Access to Therapeutic Abortion in Peru" documents the difficulties women face in accessing therapeutic abortion – those needed to save the life of the woman or avoid serious health risks – in Peru’s public health system.
In Puerto Rico abortion is legal since 1973, after the well known case of Roe vs. Wade, when the Supreme Court of the United States established that abortion, under the US Constitution, is a fundamental right. Counter legislative proposals that aim to restrict the right to abortion have come mainly from the catholic church and pro-choice groups. In March 2006, the catholic church opposed the right to abortion of a 10 year old girl that was raped by her father.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Abortion legislation in this country composed of two islands is the same as in Antigua and Barbuda. Abortion is illegal in all cases except when the life or health of the woman is at risk.
The Penal Code of Saint Lucia establishes that if abortion is intentionally or accidentally provoked by any kind of medical treatment undergone to preserve the health or life of the pregnant woman, it will not be penalized.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
According to the criminal code of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, anyone who tries to or practices an abortion faces a sanction of 14 years prison. The woman is given 7 years prison. However, abortion is not penalized if you can prove socioeconomic and health reasons that may affect the already born children or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Abortion is legal in Suriname according to the "principles of necessity" general law only to save the life of the pregnant woman. Anyone who tries to or practices an abortion faces a sanction of up to 4 years in prison while the woman gets 3 years.
Trinidad and Tobago
Abortion is legal in Suriname according to the "principles of necessity" general law only to save the life or health of the pregnant woman.
Since 1938, abortion is considered a crime under the Penal Code (it was legal from 1934 to 1938). Exceptions: for therapeutic, ethical or social reasons. In 18 years of debate that the country has had on the issue of abortion, there were important actors in society that refused to adopt a public position on the matter. However in 2002, two key actors with vital influence in the public opinion gave their favorable views: the University of the Republic and the "Sindicato Médico del Uruguay" (the doctor's main union). In 2004, a poll conducted by a private firm (Equipos Mori) said that 63% of the population supports the project law on Sexual and reproductive health (that legalizes abortion) that was under discussion in Parliament in 2006.
In December 2006, the Ministry of Public Health enables free access to family planning mechanisms (including tubal ligation and vasectomy) without any consent of third parties for 21 or older. This was a very important step forward for the respect of reproductive rights and the freedom to decide on their personal lives.
In November 2008, the Uruguayan parliament, in a historic moment, aproved the bill that legalises abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, in an antidemocratic move, President Tabaré Vazquez vetoed the bill against the opinion of his own politcal party (the "Frente Amplio) and the majority of Uruguayans that favour legalization (60% according to opinion polls). The arguments of the presidential veto were almost entirely aligned with the radical wing that has struggled against this law, composed mainly by religious groups. However, the majority of the points of Law nº 18.426 were approved, though the implementation of the law that defends sexual and reproductive health and rights nationwide is still pending.
According to Dr. Leonel Brioso, Associate Professor of the Gynaecology Clinic at Hospital “Pereira Rossell” (the main public maternity hospital in Montevideo), in order to enforce these rights it is essential to educate women in that they can and must freely decide on these matters and that they have the right to a comprehensive health care, whether abortion is legal or not. Moreover, Uruguay is the only country that states in the most explicit manner “the obligation that, in a case of unwanted pregnancy, the public and private health care centers must provide advice to reduce the risk of unsafe abortion" However, the State, disregarding the 2008 law, is ignoring the most important indicator to assess the quality of health of a population: that of maternal mortality.
In Venezuela abortion is only permitted to save the life of the woman in which case the woman, her husband or her legal representative (in case she is single or a minor) must present her written consent. The law establishes up to 2 years prison for the woman who aborts while whoever practices the abortion faces up to 30 months prison. If the husband were responsible for the abortion, the sanctions are more severe.