I was born in Honduras, a country steeped in rich tradition. There, in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, I was raised in the throes of cultural abundance: food, art, music-even the people smile abundantly. But, much like everywhere else, my home country suffers from a disjointed mix of pros and cons. The importance of culture and heritage in our society goes hand in hand with deeply ingrained religious beliefs and practices, as well as a long history of “machismo”.
When I began my education at Florida Atlantic University in 2012, I was shocked by the change in scenery; things were different at school, but also within the community at large. I knew I would find people with different beliefs and values, but I never imagined how drastic the distinction would be and how far away my reality had been.
We didn’t talk about sex in Honduras. Nor did we ever discuss anything like birth control or, God forbid, abortion. As a result of growing up in a highly religious community and school system, I never got to learn about certain topics—I was pretty ignorant about sex education—and this probably distorted my view on the whole issue. Of course, I didn’t realize it back then.
I took my first women's studies course freshman year and fell in love with it immediately. I slowly realized the culture I’d grown up in had sheltered me (for far too long) from the realities of the world. I began to discern, in my own actions and in those around me, the very obvious signs of patriarchy and sexism I’d once considered natural, normal. The more I noticed these things around me and the more I drew away from them the more I truly felt like myself, more than I ever had. It felt as if I always knew that a lot of what was going on around me growing up was wrong but I couldn’t pinpoint it, name it, or define it. Now, removed from the situation, my eyes readjusted. I could make out the flaws.
The more time I devoted to women’s studies, the more I appreciated its honesty and openness. I began to educate myself on reproductive justice and its impact all around the world. I realized the importance of what reproductive rights really meant for women, and the importance of accessibility to women’s health care. It became a passionate subject for me; I came to recognize the drastic importance of reproductive justice not just in my own personal life, but also in a more universal sense. I started imagining a world, or a country such as Honduras, where women would be treated with dignity and respect and where all their needs as individuals would be met and understood. I wanted this for everyone, but more than anything, for the home I loved so dearly.
There are voices of skepticism, which say I have conformed or been led astray by western values. But the reality is that facts speak for themselves (guttmacher.org):
- Fewer than 3% of the region’s women live in countries where abortion is broadly legal—that is, permitted either without restriction as to reason or on socioeconomic grounds.
- During 2010–2014, an estimated 6.5 million induced abortions occurred each year in Latin America and the Caribbean, up from 4.4 million during 1990–1994. The highest number occurred in South America (4.6 million annually in 2010–2014).
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, according to most recent estimates, at least 10% of all maternal deaths (900 in total) annually were due to unsafe abortion.
- About 760,000 women in the region are treated annually for complications from unsafe abortion.
- Because poor and rural women tend to depend on the least safe methods and on untrained providers, they are more likely than other women to experience severe complications from unsafe abortion.
- The abortion rate is roughly 49 for married women and 28 for unmarried women.
- Most women undergoing abortion do so because they became pregnant when they did not intend to. Because contraceptive use is the surest way for sexually active couples to prevent unintended pregnancy, programs and policies that improve women’s and men’s knowledge of, access to and use of contraceptive methods are critical in reducing the need for abortion.
- To reduce the number of clandestine procedures, the grounds for legal abortion in the region should be broadened, and access to safe abortion services should be improved for women who meet legal criteria.
- To address the disproportionately high rates of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion among poor and rural women, access to family planning and post abortion care should be made more equitable.
In Latin America most women do not have easy access to contraceptives, let alone abortion, where in most cases it is strictly illegal. Women trying to access abortion are likely to receive not only legal, but also severe societal disapproval. It is clear that there is a huge lack of understanding and access to women’s health care and that drastic changes need to be made. Central and South American countries have some of the highest rates of illegal abortion deaths in the world:
“Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest regional rate of unsafe abortions per capita in the world at 31 per 1,000 women, aged 15 to 44. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 4.2m unsafe abortions each year in Latin America and the Caribbean. Abortion is a major cause of maternal mortality in Latin America. The WHO, which calls unsafe abortion a "persistent, preventable pandemic", estimates that in 2008, 12% of all maternal deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean were caused by abortions. Many other women die as a result of complications stemming from unsafe abortions such as septic shock or perforation of internal organs” (Theguardian.com).
I started getting involved in my local community in South Florida, looking for ways to help other women and to learn more about reproductive rights and health care. I’m excited to be interning for Planned Parenthood this summer, and I hope to make it a rewarding and growing experience for myself learning about reproductive justice, its importance and how I can help the women and families in my own community. I hope to one day take everything I’ve learned and not only help women in this community, but also take what I have learned and be able to help women in Honduras and Latin America. My hope is to one day be able to help women, men and families of my community make the decisions that benefit them and give them opportunities to improve their futures, to have access to the health care they need and to be able to decide for themselves how when and how to raise a family. I want women in my community to feel empowered and to be given the right to make decisions for themselves, their own bodies and futures.
Kelly, Annie. "Latin America Still a Bastion of Draconian Anti-abortion Laws." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 13 Feb. 2013. Web.
"Latin America and the Caribbean." Encyclopedia of Christianity Online (n.d.): Guttmacher Institute, May 2016. Web.