In Latin America, safe abortions are for the rich and the lucky

Before Alana* found out that she was pregnant, she had plans to get a job and go to college. Now, after her abortion, she’s unemployed, thousands of dollars in debt, and fighting depression. And she’s one of the lucky ones.

Alana is a young woman living with her parents in a low-income community outside of a Brazilian city. Desperately seeking work while fighting severe depression and anxiety, she had no easy choices when deciding what to do about her pregnancy. She knew that having a baby would threaten her mental health even more and could be a huge impediment to helping her escape the cycle of poverty that her family was living. But abortion is illegal in most circumstances in Brazil and Alana feared that her religious parents would kick her out of the house if they knew she had terminated a pregnancy.

Alana decided that she needed to terminate the pregnancy, so she and her boyfriend purchased Misoprostal, a drug designed to prevent stomach ulcers but is widely used as an abortifacient. But after days of feeling sick, her boyfriend accompanied her to a clinic, where an ultrasound revealed that the drug had not worked. From there, desperate, Alana managed to borrow money for an expensive surgical abortion in a clinic she had heard of through friends.

Alana finally had the safe and successful procedure that she deserved. But now she owes about US$1,500, over five times as much as the average Brazilian worker earns each month and is still struggling with depression and unemployment. To pay off her debt, Alana started an online fundraiser, knowing that if discovered, she could face serious legal charges or imprisonment.

Yet, Alana is one of the lucky ones. For starters, she is still walking free, unlike many women in Mexico or El Salvador convicted of homicide for terminating their abortions. More importantly, she is alive. Just recently, another Brazilian woman named Elizângela Barbosa, 32, died after seeking out an abortion  Apparently, when the procedure went wrong – her uterus and intestine were punctured – unidentified persons brought her body out to the street and forced the first car that passed to take her to the hospital. She died en route. Before Elizângela’s death, the body of Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was found burned and mutilated after she sought out a clandestine abortion. Police believe that she died during the procedure, and her body was mutilated in order to hide her identity.

If elective abortion were legal in Brazil, these women would still be alive.

Though Brazilian poverty is slowly decreasing, the criminalization of abortion leaves the country’s maternal mortality rates unchanged. Approximately 1 million women in Brazil undergo the procedure each year, a number about comparable to the U.S., except that only 1,000 or so of those are legal. The other 999,000 women are forced to risk their health and safety to seek the medical care they need. In fact, illegal abortion is the fifth leading cause of death for women in Brazil today, largely among low-income and rural women.

Inspired by devastating statistics like these, the movement to legalize abortion throughout Latin America is a dynamic and creative one. From workshops and campaigns in El Salvador, to “underwear” demonstrations in Venezuela, or “funeral processions for the death of a woman during a clandestine abortion” in Brazil, no one is staying silent. Because healthcare isn’t about wealth, or luck. It’s about humanity.

*Name changed to protect her identity.

Related Posts:
“Las Libres” film on Mexican women convicted for homicide for abortions is coming to a theater near you
Think American abortion politics are bad? Millions of people have it worse 
We already lost Savita in Ireland. Don’t let Beatriz die in El Salvador.


Juliana is grateful that women in her family have been able to access the safe abortions that they needed.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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