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Feature Abortion Rights

How South America became a global role model for abortion rights

BMJ 2022; 378 doi: (Published 16 August 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;378:o1908
  1. Luke Taylor,
  2. freelance journalist
  1. Bogotá
  1. lukestephentaylor{at}

As the US overturns Roe v Wade, South America is making a different U turn after decades of repressive laws—and it could soon produce the world’s strongest constitutional guarantee of the right to abortion. Luke Taylor reports

Just five years ago, Latin American countries where abortion was not a criminal offence were the exception. As late as 2020, 97% of Latin American women of reproductive age lived in countries where access to the procedure was severely restricted by law.12 Few places bucked the conservative trend: only Cuba, Uruguay, and Mexico City permitted women to end their pregnancy without restriction in the first 12 weeks.3

Women’s rights groups looked to the US—where the constitutional right to abortion had been guaranteed since 1973—for inspiration on what freedoms could be achieved and how to realise them. The overturning of the Roe v Wade ruling has changed all of that. The US Supreme Court’s decision has taken away access to safe, legal abortion in the most influential nation in the Americas.

Perhaps, say abortion rights experts, the US must now look south for guidance on how to get back on track. In the past three years, astute legal pushes and coordinated social mobilisation—known as the “green wave,” owing to the T shirts, bandanas, and handkerchiefs worn by supporters—have resulted in the decriminalisation of abortion in three of Latin America’s four most populous nations: Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. Now, the Latin American nations where abortion is illegal are outliers.

Cristina Rosero, senior legal adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean at the New York based Center for Reproductive Rights, says, “These changes are not only important because they create a different perspective on the way abortion is regulated, but also because these three countries are taken as a reference for the region. …

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