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World Latin American country could make history this week with abortion ruling

18:15  16 february  2020
18:15  16 february  2020 Source:   abcnews.go.com

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Latin America has the second highest fertility rates among adolescents and the highest unsafe abortion rates However, if one were to break down the region's mortality rate by country , one could easily Abortion is a highly controversial aspect of reproductive rights. While every country in Latin

Abortion laws around the world: from bans to easy access. Health authorities in at least five affected countries have advised women to avoid getting pregnant, with Colombia telling Then, we were told it could develop into Guillain-Barré syndrome, and then that it was associated with horrible side-effects

Fourteen years after Colombia's landmark decision to legalize abortions in some cases, the country is once more bracing itself for a historic vote.

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Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk. The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires.

Many Latin American countries are at the forefront of pushing for LGBT rights, driving social shifts by starting with legal changes. Latin America has a history of rights-based constitutions, many Both the Evangelical clergy and laity "are keen on blocking anything that has to do with sexuality, abortion

The Colombian Constitutional Court has until Feb. 19th to decide whether it will legalize abortion for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. The current law allows for abortion in only three instances: if the mother's life is at risk, if a fetus is malformed or if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

This is the "first real opportunity to actually advance reproductive rights," according to Paula Avila-Guillen, the director of Latin America Initiatives for the Women's Equality Center.

"I think they have the opportunity to actually make history," Avila-Guillen told ABC News.

The decision is hanging on two female justices who have not yet made clear how they will vote, according to Avila-Guillen. She said that out of the nine justices, four men are in favor, and two men, as well as one woman, are against.

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Ninety-seven percent of Latin American women live in countries that ban abortion or allow it only in rare instances. Her anger struck a chord. Within weeks , hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched across Argentina, after organizing on social media around the hashtag #NiUnaMenos.

In Latin America , progressive politics present something of a mystery: As LGBT rights have This is the same body that in 2010 made Argentina the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex In the midst of all this history - making progress, the liberalization of abortion has lagged significantly.

The country's current abortion law is among the more lenient in Latin America.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights classifies Colombia's abortion law as legal if it is "to preserve health." Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru also fall under that category.

Six Latin American countries have total abortion bans: the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname.

By law, all institutions providing health services in Colombia -- whether public, private, secular or religious -- are required to perform an abortion if a woman proves that she meets one of the three exceptions.

Even so, advocates say the reality is that it's not regulated and hospitals often deny women the service.

Out of the estimated 400,400 abortions performed in the country each year, only 322 are legal procedures performed in health facilities, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization on sexual and reproductive rights.

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Meanwhile, abortion laws in the heavily Catholic country are applied with unique zeal; women can Others have wondered whether Zika could become for Latin America what a rubella scare was for The actual diagnostic test for Zika is relatively new, and cumbersome: It takes as long as one week to

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, found that of the 428 women and girls who requested an abortion through MSF in 2017 and 2018, 88% reported that they faced at least one obstacle while trying to access the service.

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MSF noted that while the data does not represent the country as a whole, "it does provide a snapshot of the situation."

There are two main abortion providing groups in Colombia: Orientame and ProFamilia, both of which have multiple facilities across the country.

Dr. Juan Vargas, a gynecologist of 25 years at ProFamilia, told ABC News that in 2019 the clinic performed some 22,000 abortions. He said that most of the women who seek abortion from a ProFamilia clinic do so for health reasons. Rape accounts for 1%, while fetal malformation makes up about 3%, according to Vargas.

He noted that rape survivors need to prove in some way they have been raped. It is most often done through a police report or complaint, he said; however, many victims of rape often do not report their assault.

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Vargas said between 90 to 95% of women who seek an abortion are granted one at ProFamilia. Abortions that are not performed at one of the facilities are done in hospitals, where proper access is a major issue, according to Avila-Guillen.

"Safe abortions continue to be a problem," she said. "Access has never really materialized."

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Unsafe abortions are one of the five leading causes of maternal mortality worldwide, according to MSF. The other four are postpartum hemorrhage, sepsis, birth complications and hypertensive disorders.

"Of all these, unsafe abortion is the only one that is completely avoidable," MSF reports.

Avila-Guillen said such a consequence makes the upcoming vote all the more important.

"This will be significant and a huge legacy for this court and these two women judges, which it's in their hands to recognize women's rights and women's autonomy and women's equality," she said.

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Though Avila-Guillen did not have statistics on how the public in Colombia feels about abortion, she said like many places around the world, the country is in the midst of a "battle."

"We just elected our first female mayor who is married to a congresswoman, and I think that just shows you how Colombia is moving toward a more progressive society," Avila-Guillen said.

Yet on the other hand, she noted, Colombia has not been spared a push of a right-wing agenda and there are some in the country who still vehemently oppose abortion rights.

She noted that the Colombian Constitutional Court is only considering the change in law after author Natalia Bernal Cano, who wrote a book titled "The right to information about the risks of induced abortion," brought forth a case to ban abortion entirely. In her book, Cano argues that she is providing "the right to information about the risks to women's mental and physical health from the voluntary interruption of pregnancy."

The court has since used her case to consider ultra petita, or beyond what is sought.

"They have requested a lot of technical information from providers, from lawyers, from public health experts, from criminal attorneys, so that is a good sign," Avila-Guillen said. "Whatever decision they make, it's going to be informed and based on facts."

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