This tiny Central American country is one of the most prosperous in all of Latin America, due to a strong tradition of egalitarianism and civilian democracy, and investment in health and education.
Costa Rica has no armed forces, relying instead on international peacekeeping arrangements and good overall international relations to help ensure economic and political stability in the country. Costa Rica's relationship with close neighbor Nicaragua has meant minor territorial and political tensions in the past, but more recently has meant a growing number of immigrants from Nicaragua, many of whom are undocumented. Approximately 13 percent of the population lives on less than $1 U.S. dollar a day, and this poverty seems entrenched — the rate unchanged despite years of governmental policies aimed at reducing it.
For most, the quality of life in Costa Rica is quite high, thanks to free and compulsory primary and secondary education. The vast majority of Costa Ricans are literate, and an extensive and wide-reaching government-subsidized health care system has, in part, meant that the average Costa Rican can expect to live until the age of 79.
Industrialization during the latter half of the 20th century transformed the economy from one reliant primarily on agricultural exports like bananas and coffee, to one diversified by high-technology services and manufacturing. Costa Rica's mountainous, rainforest terrain has enabled hydropower to become the primary source of electricity for its population — a majority of which live in urban areas — and has also fostered impressive biodiversity.
Despite a public health care system designed to meet the health needs of the entire population, issues with internal corruption and demographic changes have continued to hamper its viability. While common use of contraception and the presence of skilled personnel at 98 percent of births in Costa Rica are effective measures against unintended pregnancy and maternal death and disability overall, a high incidence of adolescent pregnancy and complications due to unsafe abortion persist.
While the Costa Rican government has taken steps to address these problems, the strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the continued use of abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in schools, make abortion under any circumstance highly stigmatized and may hinder the likelihood of contraceptive use among unmarried adolescents.
PPFA in Costa Rica
Abortion rights are severely restricted in Costa Rica, and government policies have not kept pace with the advancement of women's rights in the country. The women's movement is visible and well-organized, and emboldened by progressive policies that guarantee rights in many spheres. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) has links to the women's movement in the country, but few other international NGOs are engaged in sexual and reproductive rights work in Costa Rica despite the challenges to be met.
At the national level, PPFA provides support to the country's premier feminist organization, Colectiva Por el Derecho a Decidir (CPDD), to research the toll of unsafe abortion on women in Costa Rica and to increase public awareness of this otherwise invisible issue. CPDD's advocacy project, Campaign to Increase Access to Therapeutic Abortion in Costa Rica, advocates for a woman's right to make decisions about and be in control of her own sexual and reproductive health. This project was developed to ensure that therapeutic abortion — an abortion performed in order to save the life or health of the mother — is available to women according to current Costa Rican laws.
In conjunction with other local feminist organizations, CPDD develops political and community outreach strategies, such as community forums and media broadcasts, in order to squarely place the topic of unsafe abortion within the public debate. They have worked to develop a cadre of skilled advocates, paving the way toward eventual policy proposals that strengthen abortion rights.
PPFA also works with other partner organizations committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights for individuals. From the capital of San José to the slums of Alajuelita to remote Venado Island, we support organizations that address the incidences of maternal death and disability, adolescent pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) through clinics and community-based outreach activities.
Each year, PPFA's programs reach thousands of individuals living in Costa Rica with services, education, and supplies to support informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Direct services are provided in two clinic sites in San José and outreach is conducted in its surrounding squatter settlements. Innovative approaches have been piloted, including holistic services that offer both alternative therapies such as yoga and massage, as well as cancer prevention and screening for sexually transmitted infections, alongside family planning.
All Planned Parenthood-supported providers offer integrated reproductive health care services including medical exams, pregnancy testing, psychological support, options counseling, Pap tests, and contraceptive services. In the deeply poor immigrant area of Alajuelita, a PPFA-supported project offers confidential health care through a network of community educators who can provide counseling, contraceptives, and referrals for issues such as domestic violence, economic support, and clinic-based services.