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Mexico Leads the Way: The Ongoing Struggle for Abortion Rights in Latin America

In a historic move that sent ripples across Latin America and the world, Mexico recently decriminalised abortion across the entire country. This landmark decision has once again brought the spotlight to a long-standing debate about reproductive rights that has been raging in the region for years.





What is Abortion?


Abortion, in its simplest terms, is the termination of a pregnancy. It can be carried out through various medical procedures and is often a deeply personal and difficult decision for anyone to make. Access to safe and legal abortion is crucial for women's reproductive health, and it should always be a choice available to them. Abortion can be necessary for various reasons, including health risks to the mother (both mental and physical), foetal abnormalities, or personal circumstances. Ensuring the availability of safe and legal abortion is an essential component of women's healthcare.


Why Abortion Rights Matter


Abortion rights are about more than just reproductive choice - they are about bodily autonomy, gender equality, and women's overall well-being. The right to choose what happens to one's own body is a fundamental human right that empowers individuals to make decisions about their lives and futures. Denying women, girls and the trans community access to safe and legal abortion services often forces them into dangerous situations, jeopardising their physical and mental health.


Furthermore, inaccessibility to safe abortions violates a range of human rights for women, girls and the trans community. These include the right to life; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to benefit from scientific progress and its realisation; the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number, spacing and timing of children; and the right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.


Banning abortions doesn’t stop abortions. Evidence shows that criminalising abortions doesn’t reduce the amount of abortions. It only affects whether abortions are safe. The proportion of unsafe abortion practices is significantly higher in countries with restrictive abortion laws than in countries where safe abortions are accessible for all.


Unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in developing countries, claiming countless lives and causing immeasurable suffering. Across these regions, about 220 people die per 100 000 when accessing an UNSAFE abortion. In countries that have access to safe abortions, less than 1 per 100 000 people die when accessing a safe abortion. This isn’t a matter of stopping abortions - this is a matter of respecting women, girls and the trans community.


Governments who criminalise abortions are showing the world that they do not respect women and are ok with violating their human rights.


The Problem


Despite the recent progress in Mexico, many Latin American countries continue to restrict or outright ban abortion. Some countries where abortion is still entirely illegal include El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. In these nations, women and their reproductive health rights are under constant threat. In El Salvador, for example, women have been imprisoned for miscarriages, facing severe consequences due to strict anti-abortion laws. These governments have so much disrespect and control over women’s bodies that they punish them over something that is out of their control. “Esme” (linked), an El Salvadorian woman, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated homicide in 2022. The reason? She had a miscarriage. She was sentenced just months after another woman, “Elsy”, was freed from prison after being wrongly imprisoned in 2011 for a miscarriage.


It is crucial to recognise that abortion is not a black-and-white situation. Every situation is unique, and the reasons behind a woman's choice to have an abortion can be deeply personal and complex. Judgement and condemnation have no place in this discussion. What is most important is respecting an individual's right to make decisions about their own body and life. This respect is fundamental to a just and compassionate society.


Harassment Against Women and the Trans Community


As we celebrate the progress in Mexico and continue advocating for change throughout the region, it is important to address the concerning issue of harassment faced by women and the trans community.


The harassment needs to stop. Harassment against women and the trans community seeking abortion takes on various forms, such as protests, hurtful words outside clinics, sharing personal information online, and even physical threats. This behaviour makes women feel scared, ashamed, and exposed when they are already dealing with tough decisions and emotional distress. This persistent harassment not only invades their privacy and safety but also directly challenges their right to make decisions about their bodies. It's crucial for society to understand that this harassment creates a hostile environment that blocks individual's access to safe and legal healthcare, infringing upon their basic rights. To promote a fairer and kinder society, it's vital that we all stand together against this harassment and work to stop it. This way, women can make their choices without fear, criticism, or intimidation.





Mexico's Accomplishment


The recent decriminalisation of abortion in Mexico is a milestone in the struggle for reproductive rights in Latin America. Previously, Mexico's abortion laws varied from state to state, making access to safe and legal abortion a patchwork of rights and restrictions. The Supreme Court's ruling that the criminalisation of abortion is unconstitutional was met with both celebration and opposition. It marked a significant shift in a region where conservative values have long held sway over reproductive rights.


Mexico's progressive step has reignited hope for change throughout Latin America. The country's proximity and cultural influence have the potential to create a domino effect, inspiring other nations to reconsider their stance on abortion. Advocates across the region are pushing for a broader recognition of reproductive rights as a fundamental human right and a crucial component of gender equality.


The road ahead for Latin America may be long and challenging, but the hope for a future where all individuals have access to safe and legal abortion services is a powerful motivator. In the face of opposition and adversity, the importance of abortion rights in Latin America cannot be overstated. The region stands at a crossroads, where the choices made today will shape the future for countless women and their reproductive health. It is a moment that calls for courage, compassion, and unwavering commitment to justice and equality.




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