By Viktor Andersson & Lydia Johansson Malm
Our phones have been buzzing with joyous headlines the last couple of weeks! New South Wales became the final state in Australia to decriminalize abortion, with Oaxaca, Mexico following closely in its footsteps. Are these two breakthroughs the guiding light necessary for a more open reproductive world? Or are they mere coincidences in the grand scheme of things? The abortion climate is undoubtedly rough in Latin America, and North America is no fairytale either. Buckle your seatbelts as we delve deeper into the hot topic that is abortion trends on the American continents.
By the echoes from a monotone voice in the Alabama state senate on a regular gloomy Wednesday, the lives of many women changed in a blink of an eye. On May 15th, Alabama passed the country’s most strict abortion bill, making abortion a crime from the very moment of realization that one is pregnant. Any doctor carrying out the procedure is risking to face up to 99 years in prison. If this was not enough in itself, the exceptions for rape and incest were removed.
By broadening the scope and looking at the overall abortion trend in the United States, one can distinguish decreasing figures. The number of abortions dropped from 1,058,000 in 2011 to 862,000 in 2017, counting for a 19% decline. Additionally, the abortion rate, that is, the number of abortions per 1000 women (aged 15-44) fell 20%, from 16,9 to 13,5 in the same time span. These are figures that are leveled with the all time low rate that occured in connection to the famous Roe v. Wade case in 1973, where the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to abortion. Scrutinizing those numbers raises the question whether these trends solely can be explained by the increase in abortion restrictions across the country, or if other factors play a part.
The downwards abortion trend is prevalent in almost every state in the United States, intrusive and unobtrusive states alike in terms of abortion rights. Only five states and the District of Columbia can account for an increase. How seemingly harmful the restrictions and bans may be, they do not paint the full picture. This gruesome reality experienced by many women is complex, with no clear cut answers. For a long time, anti-abortion activists have argued that the decline can be explained by an alleged change in public opinion, that would see women preferring to give birth rather than making an abortion. However, such an assumption is by no means bulletproof. The public opinion on abortion, although fluctuating every so often, have remained surprisingly solid. 61% of Americans maintain the opinion that abortion should be legal in all (27%) or most (34%) cases. On a different notion, the amount of both births and abortions in the United States have declined. Between the years 2011 and 2017 the number of births dropped by 98,000. In other words, fewer pregnancies overall might be a more reasonable contributing factor. Another substantial aspect is the upswing of so called self-managed abortions which goes undetected by many censuses as it occurs outside of medical facilities.
Let us shift our focus down south to Latin America. Here, not even the joyous news are without clouds. On September 26th, Oaxaca became the second state in Mexico to legalize abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. In the remaining 31 states, a woman is only able to make a decision about her body in the case of rape, a situation when choice already has been stripped away from her. However, Oaxaca can be seen as flag-bearer for Latin America, which is known for its harsh abortion laws. In six countries – El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Suriname – there is an absolute ban on abortions.
In El Salvador women risk being jailed for aggravated murder when terminating one’s pregnancy. Even when suffering a miscarriage, women are not safe. Many may remember the case of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz. In 2016, at 18 years old, Hernández gave birth to a still born baby in her family’s outdoor latrine. Hernándes was a victim of rape. After being taken to the emergency room, she was jailed in awaital for her trial. The autopsy deemed the cause of death to be aspiration pneumonia. Nevertheless, Hernández was deemed guilty of homicide and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In spite of this, in February 2019, after 33 months, she was released. Her retrial in August 2019 freed her on all charges. However, her case is to be retried a third time.
So, where does all this data leave us? Could the baby steps forward be an indicator of a positive continuous development towards more liberal abortion legislation? Or are they random rays of hope in an otherwise dark reality? It can be noted that even though free abortion may be a far away vision for many women in the United States and Latin America, the world in several places is transitioning to a softer approach. In Northern Ireland, the years of restrictive abortion laws are finally coming to an end, as a result of a reform passed on October 21st 2019. Returning to the headlines, this fall Australia joined the countries which enjoy free abortion and in California abortion pills will be distributed at all colleges at no cost. Does this mean that the sun will finally be able to break through the clouds? It is difficult to tell, but let us put it in the words of civil and human rights activist Ella Baker: “Give light and people will find the way.”
Cover photo: Protoplasma K
Viktor Andersson is studying the bachelor program in Peace and Development. His favorite things include Lydia, liquorice, lasagna, llamas and Lisztomania. His best vacation memory was spending four awesome nights on a raft in Värmland.
Lydia Johansson Malm is a student of the Peace and Development Bachelor Program. She likes all things country, Christmas, cleaning and cold brew. Her worst vacation ever consisted of four awful nights on a raft in Värmland.