Think American abortion politics are bad? Millions of people have it worse


Very few countries in the Americas share the United States’ relatively liberal abortion laws. Say what you will about the GOP infringing on our reproductive rights, but we have things pretty good in comparison to a lot of our American neighbors. Of the 34 countries in Latin America, 18 allow abortion in cases other than the strict “rape, incest, or threat to the woman’s life.” In 6 of the remaining countries, abortion is completely illegal, with no provisions for rape, or threat to the woman’s life. One of those countries is Haiti.

The Miami Herald recently reported on the “abortion crisis” in Haiti, a country with the highest rate of unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. That mortality rate includes those who die from abortion complications, which the Haitian health ministry has roughly estimated at 20-30% of maternal deaths.

Those of us living in the U.S. are certainly no stranger to the fight for abortion rights. What with the recent battle in New MexicoIndiana and now Michigan, abortion is so inaccessible for so many people that it seems as if the procedure has been made all but illegal. But during the #SecretLivesofFeministas twitter chat I was moved by FeministaCansada’s comment that, living in Brazil, she is envious of more developed countries where abortion is legal and safe. I too often take for granted the fact that when/if someone living in the U.S. is able to access a legal abortion, at least they are not risking their safety by undergoing the procedure.

Living in Brazil a couple of years ago, I remember being shocked when I realized that I no longer had that privilege–that if something went wrong, if a condom broke or I missed a pill, there would be no Planned Parenthood. Just parenthood.

Certainly there are ways to get abortions in Brazil. During my time there, close friends got the procedure, and because they had enough financial capital, they were able to get what seemed to be safe health care. One of them had to wait in a car for hours while the police collected their bribe money. Another could not be accompanied by her partner into the clinic. He waited outside for an hour or so, unsure of just how safe she was.

But they were lucky. They had a friend of a friend who knew where to go, a relative who could lend them the money, a partner who could drive them home. Plenty of other women had to find a dirtier, smaller, cheaper “clinic,” one that wouldn’t be able to bribe the police if they arrived mid-procedure. Many of those women found themselves days later in the maternal wards of hospitals, having doctors clean up after the mess someone else had left of their uterus.

Apparently, the situation is only worse in Haiti. 

“Marie said she was forced to wait until her 16th week to abort because she didn’t have the $20 the “doctor” charged. If Marie had the money, she could have spared herself the punishing ordeal. Qualified doctors charge at least $300 to secretly do the procedures in their private clinics, or even a hospital.

Reading this article today I felt lucky, but mostly in awe. In awe of how far we have come, how far the U.S. has regressed, and how far the global reproductive justice movement has to go. Because if so many women living around me in my own state can’t get the abortion care they need, then we are not done. And if our cousins, friends, and family living south of la frontera can’t even speak freely about the care they need, then our work has just begun.

Image source.


Juliana‘s dream is to become fluent in Haitian Creole.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a writer, a speaker, and a consultant. Her blogging work focuses on feminist and racial justice movements lead by Latinas throughout the Americas, touching on issues such as environmental justice, immigration, colonization, land rights and indigenous movements. She has been a regular Contributor to Feministing since Spring of 2013, and also been published on the Huffington Post, Mic, and the Feminist Wire. Juliana studied Latin American and Latinx Studies at the University of California and is now based in the Bay Area where she has worked with various organizations on social media and communications strategy. In her free time, she likes to dance salsa and tango and practice Portuguese with her cousins via Skype.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and digital communications specialist living in California.

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