Global Abortion Politics

Global Snapshot on Abortion Politics

In many countries around the world, laws exist that discourage, restrict, and prevent women from access to safe and/or doctor-assisted abortions. Abortion politics laws range from outright prohibition at the national level to detailed regulations at the local level.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights:

  • 66 of the world's countries do not restrict women's access to abortion as to reason
  • 13 countries allow women access to abortion due to socioeconomic status
  • 59 countries allow abortion to preserve health, only
  • 66 countries prohibit abortion altogether
Abortion Politics around the World
RED: abortion legal to save a woman's life, or prohibited altogether. ORANGE-RED: to preserve health YELLOW: due to socioeconomic status GREEN: without restriction as to reason
Source: Center for Reproductive Rights, 2013

Latin America Abortion Politics

Latin America's heavy influence from the Catholic Church results in women living in fear of accidentally becoming pregnant. According to Guttmacher Institute, from 1995-2008, 95% of the abortions performed in Latin America were considered to be unsafe.

Consider the map above in light of the recent Zika Virus outbreak in South America; two major countries in which the outbreak is occurring (Brazil and Venezuela) prohibit abortion, except in cases of danger to the mother's life. Furthermore, seven countries in Latin America ban abortion in any form: El Savador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras, Haiti and Suriname. Only three countries in Latin America allow abortions beyond cases of rape, incest or threats to a woman's health: Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay.

Because of the hostile regulatory environment, doctors and female patients in Latin America are regularly taken to task in court when women are forced look to the black market to implement decisions about their reproductive health. A prominent doctor in Brazil, Varella Varella, recently came out to say that the abortion ban in Brazil, as it will affect women living with Zika, will "punish those who have no money," indicating the large number of wealthy women who have the ability to pay for illegal abortions from private doctors.

According to Brazil's National Abortion Survey in 2010, one in five women in Brazil have had an abortion by the age of 40. Clearly, legislation against abortion does not prevent it, but can only cause unnecessary harm to the woman, doctor and/or technician involved in the abortion.

Sub-Saharan Africa Abortion Politics

Evangelical Christianity's toll on Africa is clear when we consider a woman's right to choose. There are only two countries in all of Sub-Saharan Africa which allow women access to abortion regardless as to reason: South Africa, and the small archipelago nation of Cape Verde!

According to South African Mail & Guardian, only 3% of the 6.4 million abortions performed on the continent every year are under safe conditions. Oftentimes, younger or unmarried pregnant women are disproportionately forced to seek unsafe abortions because of their economic and social status.

The World Health Organization estimated in 2008 that 14% of all maternal deaths on the continent were due to unsafe abortion, while 1.7 million women are hospitalized every year in Africa due to complications from back-door abortions.

Some of the most comprehensive information on the types of abortions sought and the results, come from Uganda, a country where abortion remains illegal unless the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman. Dr. Charles Kiggungu, one of the prominent gynecologists of Uganda, claims that half of the country's 2 million pregnancies per year end in abortion despite the ban, and that nearly 25% of them result in severe complications that threaten the life of the woman. Guttmacher Institute reports that 56% of the women seeking abortions in Uganda seek abortions from doctors or nurses, 23% go to traditional healers, 15% attempt to self-induce and 7% purchase abortion-inducing medications from pharmacists or other vendors.

Access to family planning in Africa is not only limited to abortion. Despite the majority of women wanting contraception, only 30% of all African women use either condoms, the pill or the injection, according to WHO. Even in Senegal, where abortion is prohibited altogether, or has no explicit legal exception, contraception use remains at only 8.7%, suggesting that women are not even empowered to ask for or enforce contraception use with their sexual partners.

Middle East / North Africa Abortion Politics

Despite probably being the first region in the world to perform a surgical abortion, today this region is fraught with policies enacted by reactionary regimes that filled power vacuums left by retreating colonial Europe. Even in the rare countries with favorable conditions for a woman to undergo an abortion, such as Tunisia, women's right to choose is slowly eroding.

Abortion was legalized in 1973 in Tunisia, and until recently each of the 25 governorates (similar to a state) of Tunisia had its own clinic, but between 2007-2012, the number was reduced to 5 for the whole country. Simultaneously, the birth rate over the past few decades has fallen, and more women are being socially pressured to have more children.

And Tunisia is a success story. On the other end of the spectrum, Saudi Arabia only makes an abortion available to a woman to have consent from her husband, as well as three physicians. The legal system explicitly denies abortion to women seeking one for financial reasons or inability to provide an education for the child, and even goes so far as to force the woman to pay compensation to the husband's family for seeking an abortion!

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) defines unmet contraceptive need as the difference between the number of women who want to avoid a pregnancy versus the number who do not want to have a baby, but do not use contraception. Unmet need ranges from 50% in Yemen to 6% in Turkey.

Yemen tops many lists as the worst place in the world to be a woman. 1 in 39 women die due to pregnancy-related causes. Abortion for any reason is prohibited. The average woman in Yemen has 6 children over the course of her lifetime.

Asian Abortion Politics

Abortion in Asia is, all in all, is a rosier picture than the regions we have covered before, but there are still two countries - Laos and Philippines - which ban abortion altogether, for any reason. This flies in the face of the fact that the Philippines in particular is a sexual tourism hotspot. In countries where abortion IS legal, like India, only 2/5 of the abortions that take place are considered safe, according to Guttmacher Institute.

On the continent as a whole, 6%, or slightly more than 1 in 20 of maternal deaths result from unsafe abortions. There were also 4.6 million women in Asia who were hospitalized because of complications from obtaining an abortion.

In Pakistan, where abortion is legal to save the woman's life or health, a survey reported by the Guttmacher Institute pointed out that 68% of women who have an illegal abortion obtain it from doctors, nurses or midwives. Another quarter (25%) of those women seek one from traditional doctors, which puts them at a greater risk for complications. The remaining 9% seek abortifacient pharmaceuticals or attempt to induce the abortion themselves.

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