Uruguay’s of charge.[v] Though other factors, such

Uruguay’s decision to legalize abortion
was inspired by the same harm reduction approach used by needle exchange
Prior to legalization, unsafe abortions were a leading cause of maternal
mortality in the country and accounted for nearly 40 percent of maternal deaths.ii
The current law is not a perfect representation of a country granting women
full bodily autonomy and does have certain restrictions, but remains one of the
least restrictive abortion laws. The law allows for “abortion on demand
during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, fourteen weeks in the case of rape,
and without a time limit when the woman’s health is at risk or in the case of
fetal anomalies.”iii
It does require “women to meet with a three-person interdisciplinary team
comprised of a gynecologist, a social worker, and a mental health professional
to receive information about alternatives and the so-called risks involved” as
well as a five-day reflection period before being granted access to the
Fortunately, the procedure is a service that is made available within the
public health system, free of charge.v
Though other factors, such as the manner in which Uruguay obtains maternal
mortality data has changed, a study submitted to the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that the
process of decriminalizing abortion caused the maternal mortality rate related
to unsafe abortions to drop from 40 percent to 8 percent over ten years.vi
The drastic reduction resulted in Uruguay having the second lowest maternal
mortality rate in the Americas after Canada and the study found that “this
rapid reduction in maternal mortality coincides with a reduction in the
official figures concerning poverty and inequality reported by the Uruguayan government.”vii
Considering the constant iteration of the importance of family planning
programs and their relation to women’s empowerment, this seeming coincidence
falls directly in line with the development community’s goals.

In contrast, El Salvador’s complete ban on
abortion has had dire results for the country’s women. The code criminalizing
abortion classifies it as a serious crime, yet fails to define what constitutes
an abortion and has created a “great deal of legal uncertainty.”viii
Abortion’s criminal classification means the court can impose interim detention
during the course of the proceedings resulting in a loss of income for that
As a consequence of the legal uncertainty imposed by the lack of a definition
and the strong opposition to abortion, a woman who suffers a miscarriage is
treated the same as a woman who has induced an abortion. If a woman is taken to
a hospital and fails to inform the police of a pre-term stillbirth—one which
occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy—she can be investigated and detained under
the assumption she induced an abortion.x
Guadalupe Vasquez, a rape victim who became pregnant, chose to keep her baby.

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When she experienced intense pain and bleeding, her employer would not allow
her to leave the house to seek medical care and she was forced to give birth in
her room where the baby died shortly after. Vasquez was finally allowed to go
to a hospital but woke up handcuffed to the bed. She was sentenced to prison
for seven years and three months and served the full term before being released
at 24-years-old.xi
Incarceration over an unfortunate incident robbed her of the ability to earn an
income or obtain a higher education during those years and has given her a late
start in life. Furthermore, the number of maternal deaths, especially in rural
areas reached 110 per 100,000 live births in 2008.xii
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 11 percent of those deaths
were adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19.xiii
The Pan American Health Organization found that El Salvador’s maternal mortality
rate was higher than the regional average of 89.1 per 100,000 live births in
The Ministry of Health’s Maternal Death Tracking System reported that “suicide
of pregnant women has become the third most common cause of maternal death, 57
percent of which were committed by pregnant females aged 10-19.”xv

The law has also negatively impacted the
less educated and impoverished. Of the women accused of abortion or homicide,
46.3 percent were illiterate or had finished two years of primary school.xvi
These women are more likely to not understand the legal system and may lack
information on how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or care for a wanted one.xvii
Amnesty International discovered that, as of 2015, most of the 19 women in jail
for abortion or feticide were their household’s main breadwinners.xviii
With the primary breadwinner incarcerated, their families are pushed further
into poverty. Since the law does not allow for any exceptions, women who need
to terminate a pregnancy either due to risk to the mother or a fetal anomaly
that will inevitably result in the death of the fetus face extreme hardships.

“Beatriz” was 22-years-old, extremely poor and suffered from lupus when
doctors informed her that her second child was diagnosed with anencephaly, would
not survive and that the pregnancy risked killing her as well.xix
She appealed to the Supreme Court but was denied an exception to terminate. An
eventual compromise allowed for a caesarean section at 27 weeks, after which,
the baby died. “Beatriz” continues to suffer from health complications as a
These stories represent a small sample of the negative results the country’s
draconian abortion ban has had on citizens.

By constitutionally separating church and
state early on, Uruguay was able to pass progressive reforms including the
right to an abortion. El Salvador’s total abortion ban along with its
constitutional amendment defining life as “beginning at conception” were a
direct result of the Catholic Church’s influence on the legislature during Pope
John Paul II’s tenure. An unfortunate result has been the criminalization of
women who miscarry and an increase in maternal mortality. Despite evidence of
the importance of comprehensive family planning—specifically, Uruguay’s drastic
decrease in maternal mortality and resulting economic growth—El Salvador
continues to impose its ban even if the outcome is the further impoverishment
of its citizens. While myriad factors contribute to a country’s economic
growth, or lack thereof, the striking difference between each country’s
abortion laws and their outcomes show a strong connection between religion and
politics and the effect they have on development.












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