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LatAm Majority Favours Legalising Abortion - But Not for All Cases
email this pageprint this pageemail usDaniela Estrada - Inter Press Service
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June 24, 2010

Santiago - The majority of people surveyed in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua are in favour of legalising therapeutic abortion, but not all forms of elective abortion, according to a study by the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO).

"There is a shared opinion in the four countries that abortion is a serious problem, of public health and equality," study coordinator Claudia Dides, director of the FLACSO-Chile gender and equality programme, told IPS.

Most of the survey respondents believe that the existing strict abortion laws need to be revised, particularly for cases in which the health of the mother is at risk, and that changes in the law should be made through referendums, before congressional debate.

Nevertheless, 69 percent of the Brazilians surveyed opposed total legalisation of abortion, as did 64.5 percent of the Chileans, 61.4 percent of the Mexicans and 81.4 percent of the Nicaraguans polled.

The apparent gap between the respondents' perception of abortion as a public health and equality problem, and their opposition to legalising all forms of abortion "has to do with a series of variables," according to Dides.

Among them she cited the population's general lack of knowledge about the issue, the absence of appropriate treatment for women suffering complications from botched abortions, and "the influence of political actors, such as the Catholic Church hierarchy."

Another important factor is the space and the treatment that the communications media give the abortion debate, she explained.

The initial descriptive analysis of the "Public Opinion Study on Abortion in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua" was presented Tuesday in Santiago, following similar events in Mexico City and Managua.

The countries that FLACSO chose for the study provide unique perspectives on the issue. In Chile and Nicaragua, abortion has been illegal without exception since 1989 and 2006, respectively. In Brazil, meanwhile, abortion is legal in cases such as pregnancy resulting from rape or when the life of the mother is in danger.

Interruption of a pregnancy is legal for any motive in Mexico City, but in most of the rest of Mexico it remains illegal, said Dides.

Notably, some of the Catholic news outlets in Mexico referred to the FLACSO study as a survey "sponsored by a research institute with pro-abortion tendencies."

The poll consisted of more than 1,200 face-to-face interviews of men and women older than 18 in rural and urban areas of each of the four countries. The participants were asked about their "opinions, attitudes and knowledge" about abortion.

A significant percentage of those surveyed agreed that the voluntary interruption of a pregnancy "is a decision of the woman" more than "other actors who are always expressing their opinions," said Dides.

In Nicaragua, 30.3 of respondents said that abortion is "a woman's human right," slightly below the 32.1 percent in Brazil. But the portion jumped to 38.7 percent in Chile and 43.5 percent in Mexico.

The study also shows that "there are expectations that abortion legislation will change in the four countries. People don't want things to continue as they are," Dides said.

In the case of Chile, 95 percent of those interviewed said the abortion laws should be revised, as did 87.8 percent of Brazilians, 82.8 percent of Mexicans and 94.2 percent of Nicaraguans.

According to Gloria Maira, member of the Chilean women's group Articulación Feminista, the study reaffirms the belief in the women's movement that the reasons behind legalising therapeutic abortion are fully supported by the population.

"The study provides a lot of information about the strategies that women's and feminist movements can use in the future to achieve the decriminalisation of abortion in Chile. It talks about the need for sustained campaigns and informed debate," she said.

In Maira's view, the study also reveals that since former dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) penalised therapeutic abortion, Chilean lawmakers since then have failed to respond to the population's interests.

"They have always talked about the political costs of supporting legislation (in favour of abortion rights) and what the study proves is that it is an erroneous perception and that what they have focused on are other considerations, not the needs of women or the opinions of the population," said Maira.

Meanwhile, Chilean lawmaker María Antonieta Saa told IPS that "in all Latin American parliaments, especially in Central America, there are organised and militant conservative groups that want to reverse all the advances made in the field of women's reproductive and sexual rights."

Saa, of the opposition centre-left party Por la Democracia is president of the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development.

FLACSO plans to continue releasing results of the survey, and in two months will publish a book that includes analysis of the state of research about abortion, a comparison of legislation, case studies and media analysis from the four countries.

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