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The map of abortion in Latin America and Europe


Marko Vombergar-ALETEIA

Paul De Maeyer - published on 08/13/18

Here's what it's like after the Senate of Argentina voted against legalizing abortion

During the early hours of Thursday, August 9, with a majority of 38 to 31 votes, the Senate of Argentina rejected a prosed law on the “voluntary interruption of pregnancy” which aimed to legalize abortion in that South American country, making the procedure—in the words of its supporters, recognizable by their green handkerchiefs, while “pro-life” supporters wore a blue one—”safe, legal, and free.”

While the proposed law was approved in June by a narrow margin in the Chamber of Deputies in Buenos Aires, it’s important to remember that abortion is already possible in Argentina in the following situations: when the pregnancy is the result of rape, or when the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother’s life.

With this vote, writes La Nación, the Senate has “closed the door on the possibility of Argentina joining the group of countries that have legalized abortion.” The necessary question then becomes, “What is the current situation in South America and in the rest of Latin America?”

The situation in Latin America

A partial reply to the question is provided in an article published on August 8 in El País.As the newspaper from Madrid points out, there are four Latin American countries in which abortion is legal and unrestricted in the first weeks of pregnancy—namely, in alphabetical order: Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico, and Uruguay.  

In some other Latin American and Caribbean countries, namely El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, abortion is illegal. Up to a year ago, Chile was also part of this group of countries, but the situation changed on August 2, 2017, when the National Congress partially legalized the practice, allowing it in three very limited situations: in the case of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger, and when the fetus is not viable.

In the panorama described above, some important countries are missing, such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. In the case of Brazil, the situation is very similar to that of Chile today. As explained by La Nación, Brazil allows abortion in three situations: in the case of rape, when the mother’s life is at risk, and when the fetus suffers from anencephaly.

The situation in Colombia is exactly the same as in Chile. As the result of a decision of the Constitutional Court of Bogota in 2006, women can have recourse to abortion in three situations: in the case of rape, of danger to the mother’s life, and when the fetus is deformed. In Mexico on the federal level, the practice is only allowed in the case of danger to the mother’s life. Since 2007, only in the Federal District of Mexico City (which, in 2016, ceased to be a Federal District became the 32nd state of the United Mexican States, as simply “Ciudad de Mexico”, “Mexico City”) abortion has also been legal during the first three months of pregnancy.

And in Europe?

The panorama in Europe is also rather heterogeneous, as illustrated by a map published last June 1 by Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Abortion is illegal in three small European countries: Andorra, Malta, and San Marino. In the Principality of Liechtenstein and in the Northern Ireland, abortion is legal when the mother’s life is at risk or when the fetus has abnormalities.

In Poland and in the Principality of Monaco, the situation is almost identical, in the sense that besides the two situations just mentioned, abortion is also allowed when the pregnancy is the result of rape. In Great Britain, abortion is always available in the case of danger to the mother’s life or when the fetus suffers from abnormalities, and also for psychological or social motives.

While these four conditions—danger to the mother’s life, illness of the fetus, pregnancy resulting from rape, and psychological and/or social reasons—are required for an abortion in Cyprus, Finland, Iceland, and Luxembourg, abortion is freely available in the rest of Europe at the woman’s request, although within a limited legal timeframe. In Italy, for example, law 194 of 1978 allows for abortion within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and even in the fourth and fifth month if for therapeutic reasons.

The Irish situation is unique: indeed, after the decisive victory of the “yes” vote in the referendum last May, the government in Dublin must present a new law before the end of the year.

Some statistics

The annual report from the Italian Ministry of Health delivered to the Parliament last December 29 reveals that in the year 2016, 84,926 abortions were performed in Italy, a drop of 3.1% compared to 2015. This drop is due at least in part to the sales boom of the “5 day after pill” (sold under the brand name ellaOne). Indeed, the number of pills sold rose from 145,000 in 2015 to 235,000 the following year, and 255,000 last year. Sales of the “day after pill” (brand name Norlevo) also are on the rise.

For the first time, the number of abortions among Italian citizens fell below the 60,000 threshold, a drop of 74.7% comparted to 1982. From this number, it can also be deduced that the number of voluntary interruptions of pregnancy among non-Italian women (foreigners) in the country is very high: nearly one third of the total.

In the case of France, according to the report from the DREES (the French Department of Research, Studies, and Evaluation of Statistics), the number of voluntary interruptions of pregnancy practiced in the country—211,900 in 2016—remains “stable and high” despite the third consecutive annual slight drop, reports La Croix. Paradoxically, despite the high number of abortions, the birth rate remains high: in 2016, 784,000 children were born in France.  

While the abortion rate in 2016 was 13.9 for every thousand women of fertile age (15-49 years old) in “metropolitan” France (the territory in Europe), in its overseas territories the rate was 25.2.

According to data published by the Ministry of Health, Spain, where abortion is legal during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, also experienced a drop in number of abortions in 2016, for the fifth year in a row. The total of 93,131 abortions represents a 1.12% drop compared with 2015.

In the great majority of cases, the abortions were performed at the woman’s request (89.67%), while in 10.33% of the cases the motive was either a grave abnormality that rendered the fetus inviable or a risk to the mother’s life.

With about 98,700 abortions in 2016, Germany recorded its lowest number in the past twenty years. This is revealed in the date provided by the Federal Statistical Office or Statistisches Bundesamt in Wiesbaden (Hesse).

While 3% of the cases were adolescent pregnancies, nearly three quarters of the women who had abortions were in the age range from 18-34, and nearly 8% were for women 40 years old or older. Nearly four in ten women, 39%, don’t have children yet.

The joy caused by the decline was real but short-lived. With 101,200 cases, the number of abortions increased by 2.5% in 2017 as compared with 2016, once gain passing the 100,000 threshold.

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