Right to abortion | A world of debate and struggle

The abortion issue is shaking the United States. Elsewhere in the world, countries have recently repositioned themselves on the subject, loosening their laws or, more rarely, tightening them up. Overview.

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Janie Gosselin

Janie Gosselin
The print

green sea

In 2015 Chiara Páez was beaten to death by her boyfriend. The young Argentine was 14 years old. She was pregnant.

This umpteenth femicide has inflamed feminists in Argentina. “None less”, sang the demonstrators.

In a sea of ​​green pennants, the movement has positioned itself to defend women’s rights while calling for the legalization of abortion.

The activists won their case in December 2020.

“Feminists in Argentina have associated feminicides and reproductive health rights, there has been a link between violence against women and their reproductive rights,” says Chritina Ewig, a professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in women’s rights and America. Latina.

Two issues seen as “similar issues to women’s autonomy,” she says.

The little green scarves have become the symbol of their struggle, in South America as elsewhere: even pro-choice American women have worn them in this week’s marches.

The green tide has spread to other countries in the region. Colombia became the last on the list two months ago to make abortion on demand possible by joining Uruguay. Chile, which is currently rewriting its constitution, decided this year to include the decriminalization of abortion.

Elsewhere on the South American continent, abortion remains possible in several places, but under certain conditions, for example to save a woman’s life or in the event of rape.



A woman calling for the legalization of abortion during a protest in San Salvador in 2012

While more than 50 countries have relaxed their abortion laws in the past 25 years, according to Amnesty International, others have taken the opposite path. El Salvador tightened its tone in 1998: whatever the health risks of the woman or child she carries, abortion is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment. In Honduras, the government tightened its laws last year and made it even more difficult to change them in the future.

The Dominican Republic and Nicaragua are also among the Latin American countries that totally prohibit the use of voluntary termination of pregnancy. “It is interesting, because these four countries are considered weak democracies by normal standards – Nicaragua is considered authoritarian,” said the lady.myself Ewig.


“It is important to keep in mind that when it comes to restrictions on abortion and the withdrawal of women’s rights, it is part of a broader trend towards the deterioration of the democratic system,” says Regitze Helene Rohlfing-Frederiksen, PhD student at the University of Copenhagen. .


Demonstration against the law restricting the right to abortion, in Warsaw, Poland, in January 2021

The researcher studied the decline of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and the link with abortion. Poland, for example, limited the use of abortion in October 2020; now, only a case of rape or a threat to the woman’s life can justify a voluntary termination of pregnancy. Hungary and Slovakia have also tried to limit access to abortion.

The “textbooks” of populist politicians are similar, notes Mmyself Rohlfing-Frederiksen: Their policies not only restrict access to abortion, but are generally anchored “to the role of men and women in a conservative Christian society” while attacking LGBTQ + rights, for example.

And Catholic influence continues in many countries. In Italy, official government statistics showed in 2013 that 70% of gynecologists are against abortion. Italian law also requires a week of reflection for a woman trying to terminate a pregnancy.

prevent death

Changes in abortion take time to materialize.

In 2003, 52 African countries signed the Maputo Protocol, to recognize the voluntary termination of medicalized pregnancy as a right for certain reasons, for example in the case of pregnancy following rape. The laws, for their part, have not all been adequate.

Women suffering from bleeding or severe infections after attempting to terminate a pregnancy using herbs, traditional products, or long sticks inserted into the uterus, Doctors Without Borders clinics have seen more, says Colette Badjo, whose latest mission for the organization was in the Central African Republic. “There are many deaths in Africa in these conditions,” she said.

The organization practices medical abortion in its clinics, to prevent complications and mortality, stresses the coordinator.

Sexual violence is a scourge in the Central African Republic, grappling with a bloody war. Abortion is allowed in the event of rape, which allows Médecins Sans Frontières to offer this type of service in its survivor clinics. “When a woman or a girl comes to ask to have an abortion, we don’t try to find out if it’s her because she was raped or not,” explains Mrs.myself Badjo. If she asks, it’s done. Among the health authorities of the countries there are those who close their eyes, there are those who criticize, but we explain to them: we, MSF, are doing it to reduce maternal mortality. ”

He stresses that, on the African continent, anti-abortion positions come mainly from religious leaders and groups.

“Although it can be said that there are restrictions at the level of laws, at the level of communities, of villages, it is a practice that has been done for a long time,” says Ms.myself Badjo.

Shades of gray

If a map allows you to see the different legislations at a glance, it would take a large palette to represent all the nuances in each country. First, as the case before the US Supreme Court demonstrates, because there could be a difference between federal law and the jurisdictions of the various states. Second, because the services are not automatically accessible simply because the law authorizes them. “In many low- and middle-income countries, even in cases where the law is very broad, the degree of accessibility is far from 100%: in general, urban areas will have better service and richer women too,” says Susheela Singh, vice president for global science and policy integration at the Guttmacher Institute, Center for Abortion Research.

Likewise, in countries where the law is more restrictive, it can be applied in different ways. “El Salvador has one of the most restrictive laws in the world and enforces it,” he adds. But most countries that have restrictive laws or criminalize abortion don’t go as far as prosecuting women. ”

With Agence France-Presse

Learn more

  • 2020
    Year of the decriminalization of abortion in New Zealand


    Percentage of deaths from unsafe abortion in Asia


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