Last month Nicaragua voted to outlaw all abortions under any circumstances. The statewide ballot initiative in South Dakota that would severely restrict abortion stops short of a total ban by making an exception only to save a woman’s life. But if the proposal passes today, women in South Dakota will have more in common with women in Nicaragua than they would with women in neighboring Minnesota a half hour’s drive away.
This would be a public health disaster. Statistics prove that when women's reproductive rights are protected and they have access to safe and legal contraception, reproductive health care and abortion, the actual rates of abortion are much lower than they are in countries where women do not have such rights.
Recently, the Colombian Constitutional Court voted to legalize abortion in cases of rape and incest, and to save the life of the woman when the fetus is expected to die after birth due to severe fetal abnormalities. But most Latin American countries have extremely restrictive abortion laws, usually allowing only the termination of a pregnancy to save a woman’s life or protect her physical health. El Salvador, Chile and, now, Nicaragua, have further undermined women's human rights by banning abortion in all circumstances.
Women’s groups across the region are working together to promote a deeper understanding of how such coercive measures only increase the burden on women and their children. The Global Fund for Women's 19 years of experience in funding and supporting women's human rights shows that the most effective way to decrease the number of abortions is to support efforts to ensure gender equality and justice for women in all aspects of their lives, including education and information about sexuality and reproductive technology.
In a country such as Nicaragua, where, according to The Guardian, a third of new mothers are aged 16 or younger and women cite domestic abuse as one of their biggest problems, this ruling is an invitation for women to break the law and endanger themselves further. A lot is at stake for South Dakotan women on November 7th. Latin America’s abortion policy is not a precedent to be followed but a red flag to groups like the Global Fund for Women working for women’s rights across the world.