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Where is the worst place for abortions?

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, GlobalPost looks at abortion rights around the world.

Abortion rights el salvador 2013 01 18Enlarge
A woman participates in a march on the International Day of Action for the Decriminalization of Abortion, on Sept. 28, 2012 in San Salvador. (Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: Ever since the US Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, abortion has been legal in every state of the union.

But that's to say nothing of the rest of the world. We asked GlobalPost correspondents from Cairo to Caracas to assess abortion rights where they are.

United States

At the time of Roe v. Wade, women all over the US rejoiced that it would no longer be necessary to risk death with an illegal procedure or make a mad dash to New York — which in 1970 legalized abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy.

Today, abortion is, for the majority of Americans, a settled question. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.

But the controversy lives on. With the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, nearly every major political candidate is vetted on his or her stance toward abortion.

Conservative groups have ensured that no federal funds may be used for abortion, and have mounted an active campaign to defund reproductive care providers such as Planned Parenthood.

The furor may be testimony to the power of a small conservative minority to influence the political debate, but is unlikely to change the status quo. Candidates with a hard-line anti-abortion stance, such as Senate hopefuls Richard Mourdock of Indiana or Todd Akin of Missouri, lost soundly in recent elections.

The public has spoken.

Jean MacKenzie in Buzzards Bay, Mass.

Latin America

Latin America could be the worst place in the world for a woman wishing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Five of the six nations with blanket bans on abortion are in the region, according to New York’s Center for Reproductive Rights: Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, abortion on demand in the first weeks of pregnancy is only available in Cuba, Guyana, the US territory of Puerto Rico, Mexico City and, since last October, Uruguay.

Peru also recently accepted recommendations from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council that it guarantee the right, established in law but in practice frequently flouted, to allow abortions for women pregnant from rape.

If the issue of abortion seems divisive in the United States, then it may be even more so in Latin America, with both the Catholic Church and, increasingly, evangelical Christians heavily influencing public policies regarding reproductive rights.

The result is that an estimated 1 million women a year in Latin America and the Caribbean need hospital treatment as a result of complications from backstreet abortions.

Simeon Tegel in Lima

Despite 14 years of left-wing government under President Hugo Chavez’s self-styled socialist revolution, Venezuela’s abortion laws remain governed by the ideology of the Catholic Church, with the practice being banned here unless the mother’s life is in danger. Voluntary abortion is punishable by up to two years in prison, though there is little chance of conviction.

Women in need of abortions either pay inflated prices to doctors on a black market or take under-the-counter pills bought for a few dollars at home. This, according to the Central University of Venezuela, leads to about 16 percent of all maternal deaths.

“Abortion isn’t a hypothetical situation, it’s a reality, it’s being done by women every day … our sisters, our neighbours; it’s a reality that we have to deal with,” said campaigner Tatiana Rojas, of the group Skirts in Revolution, in a television interview in November, adding that rich and poor were impacted very differently.

“[Wealthy women] can access foreign treatment or pay a private clinic,” she said, “whereas poor women are exposed to a clandestine market, irregular clinics, [or] they perform it upon themselves.”

Campaigns, however, have failed to gain any traction here. Skirts in Revolution’s abortion helpline was off the hook last week, its website is down and the group has not updated its Twitter feed for two months. In Venezuela, campaigns such as this are often overshadowed by a loud-mouthed political polarization rarely seen in the Western world.

— Girish Gupta in Caracas


South Africa liberalized abortion in 1997, after the first post-apartheid government passed a law allowing any woman of any age to get an abortion with no reason required during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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