Nonetheless, criminalisation and inaccessibility have not eliminated demand. The magnitude of the public health risk cannot be understated.
The unmet need for contraception underlies this risk. Throughout Latin America, over 10 million married or cohabiting women lack access to contraception information and devices. Many family planning programmes will not serve unmarried women and adolescents. The most restrictions are placed on emergency contraception (EC).
The clearest path to improving maternal mortality - and eliminating unsafe abortions - lies with decreasing unwanted pregnancies. Across Latin America, however, cultural and religious beliefs prevent women from accessing family planning services.
The Colombian Supreme Court found that officers in the national Human Rights Office - the very public officials charged with protecting women's equal access to healthcare - knowingly distributed false information about the medical effects of contraception. This victory, while notable, remains a rare instance of reproductive justice. Latin American states lack the capacity to enforce their laws in every clinic, especially in rural areas, and resistance to birth control often extends from local doctors to cabinet ministers.
Yet many Latin American politicians, activists, and public health officials do support reproductive rights, and advocates are pushing their countries to follow Argentina and Colombia in mandating free, universal access to contraception.__ Successful campaigns highlight how contraception availability lowers maternal mortality. While legal change cannot instantly manufacture cultural change, laws provide advocates with clear avenues of redress.
The Post joins international aid agencies that support domestic advocates by exposing the unwillingness of current governments to promote women's health, and by providing the organisational and financial resources to address these shortfalls through the courts and agrees with the author recommending that irrespective of their personal views on abortion, policymakers must act pragmatically: demands for back alley abortions will only decrease once women can control the space, timing, and number of their pregnancies.
**Jennifer M. Piscopo PhD is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Salem College in North Carolina. She was a 2002-2003 Gates Scholar, receiving her MPhil in Latin American Studies. Learn more about her research at http://jenniferpiscopo.wordpress.com/.