“There should be Choice in Healthcare.”
This week’s post takes us to two continents in fact, where women separated by miles are facing similar problems. Both in Latin America and Africa, women face many struggles, especially in relation to health care. The recent issues women are combating in these regions are the right to have legal abortions, access to contraceptives, and sterilizations. However, both regions are quite religious and look down upon women who seeks these resources and have abortions. Even with the recent legalization of abortions in some of these areas, many practicing doctors refuse to conduct the procedure because it goes against their own personal beliefs, even if it is what their patient wants.
First, in Latin America the access to health care is described as a “lottery style” system, where religious doctrine takes precedence over the health of the patient. If the doctor believes that it is within their beliefs to perform the operation they will, but only if the woman can pay. Thus most women do not receive proper health care because either their physician will not assist based on their own views or the women simply cannot afford the procedure.
Unfortunately, in many Latin American countries abortions are illegal even if the woman’s life is at risk. There is also the issue of HIV in these countries and women who are identified as HIV positive are usually treated poorly and are most times forcefully sterilized so as to not spread the disease further. All of these practices seem to have the full support of the state, for officials, both governmental and religious, believe that these women are not capable of making their own decisions during these situations. Thus, women turn to unsafe options in order to obtain the medical assistance they need, such as getting “back street” abortions.
Rosaura Hernandez was a sixteen-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic and was a victim of this system of health care. Diagnosed with leukemia, Rosaura was denied the proper treatment for her cancer on the grounds that she was pregnant and was denied an abortion. Doctors then made her wait till she either gave birth or miscarried to begin her treatment; Rosaura eventually miscarried, but unfortunately it was too late to save her from the cancer at that point.
Michelle, a mother of two from Veracruz, Mexico was forcefully sterilized after she gave birth because doctors had found out she was HIV positive. Michelle could do nothing to stop the procedure, and acts as another example of how Latin American women are victims to a health care system meant to protect them, but in turn harms them.
In Peru, there was a mass sterilization movement in the late 90s, with the hope to “fight poverty,” with little success. There are many women today still living with the physical and emotional effects of those illegal, and forced sterilizations.
In South Africa, women and girls also face the major risk of unsafe abortions because there are laws in place that prevent legal abortions. It is mentioned that South Africa does have one of the “most progressive legal frameworks for abortion,” but many women, especially those in poorer communities do not have access to safe abortion services. One main piece of legislation that blocks these services from women is that there is no strict regulation that controls whether or not medical professionals can deny or grant abortions. The law allows medical professionals to decide what is best for the patient, instead of the patient deciding for themselves what is best for them and their unborn child.
For the past twenty years, the country has had the CTOPA (Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act) in place, which was meant to regulate abortions. Unfortunately, this law has done little to improve the medical practices surrounding abortions, since a nineteen-year-old died in 2016 following complications from an unsafe abortion. This law is also not well enforced, which may make South Africa liable for these deaths and the failure of this legislation under international human rights law.
In South Africa, medical professionals are not allowed to deny a patient an abortion, especially if it would save their life, unlike how in Latin America professionals can deny abortions, regardless of the situation. South Africa also only has 505 facilities that are capable of providing abortions, and half of those facilities can only provide abortions up till the end of the second trimester.
Overall, in both regions there is a dire need for greater regulation of abortions, but in a broader sense of laws in regards to women and their rights. There should no longer be complications for these women in regards to receiving basic health care and resources. These two cases definitely act as a call to the greater international community to help to work to establish a more standardized system in regards to not just women’s health care, but health care in general.