Abortion laws in Latin America: Which side is winning? — By: Catholic News Agency

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ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 12, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Latin America is in the midst of a prolonged debate on abortion, with laws varying significantly from country to country and political attempts to decriminalize, legalize, or liberalize the practice.

In some Latin American countries — such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras — abortion is totally prohibited. However, other countries have decriminalized or legalized the practice, allowing it under limited circumstances.

Decriminalization means that there is a law against abortion that remains in effect but either by legislation or judicial fiat exceptions are made, sometimes referred to as non-punishable abortion. Legalization means an existing law against abortion is rescinded by legislation or judicial action, normally with specified limitations.

In the following countries significant steps have been taken either for or against abortion.


In Mexico, access to abortion has been liberalized.

In 2007 Mexico City decriminalized abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation, resulting in hundreds of thousands of lost lives since then.

On Sept. 6, 2023, the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico, by unanimous decision, declared the criminalization of abortion unconstitutional at the national level. This means that federal public health services must offer free abortions and cannot face any penalties for doing so.

Currently, 20 of the country’s 31 states criminalize abortion in their penal codes but are obliged by the court ruling to update them.


On Feb. 21, 2022, the Colombian Constitutional Court voted in favor of decriminalizing abortion up to 24 weeks’ gestation (six months). No other country in Latin America has allowed this procedure to be performed in such an advanced stage of pregnancy.

After 24 weeks, abortion is still allowed but on three specific grounds: serious risk to the life or physical or mental health of the woman; fetal deformity; or in cases of rape, incest, or nonconsensual artificial insemination. Those grounds were legalized by the court’s 2006 ruling.


On Dec. 30, 2020, the country’s legislature passed a law allowing abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy without establishing any grounds, i.e. abortion on demand.

Outside of that period, Article 4 of the law states, without giving further details, that abortion my be performed when the pregnancy is the result of rape or “if the life or overall health of the pregnant person is in danger.”

President Javier Milei has spoken out forcefully against abortion both during his election campaign and after winning office but has introduced no legislation. Meanwhile a congresswoman belonging to his political coalition has introduced a bill banning abortion, but the level of congressional support is questionable.


In Peru, abortion is illegal and constitutes a crime subject to sanctions. However, since 1924 there has been an exception known as “therapeutic abortion,” which is not subject to penalties.

According to Article 119 of the Penal Code, abortion will not be punishable if it is the only recourse to preserve the life of the pregnant woman or prevent serious and permanent damage to her health.

In November 2023, the Peruvian Congress passed the “Law That Recognizes Rights of the Conceived,” which establishes the unborn as a subject of rights with full status as a human person.

Article 2 guarantees the conceived child’s genetic identity, unique and unrepeatable, independent of the mother and endowed with its own personality.

For several years, pro-abortion groups have pushed bills to decriminalize this practice; however, to date they have been unsuccessful.


On April 28, 2021, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador decriminalized abortion, which is allowed only in specific situations: when the life or health of the mother is in danger or in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape.

The following year, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill in compliance with the court’s ruling.

According to the law, abortion is allowed up to 12 weeks for adult women victims of rape and as an exception up to 18 weeks in rape cases of girls, adolescents, Indigenous women, and women from rural areas.

Since the law was passed, Constitutional Court judges have attempted to invalidate certain articles of the law to liberalize abortion.


In Uruguay, abortion has been regulated for more than 10 years by Law 18987, which establishes that it will not be penalized if it is performed within the first 12 weeks of gestation or up to 14 weeks in cases of rape.

However, there are no limits when there are serious fetal anomalies or when the mother’s life is at risk.


On Sept. 17, 2017, Chile enacted a law authorizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape but with no upper limits for fetal non-viability or risk to the mother’s life.

Before the law was passed, abortion was completely criminalized.


In Brazil, induced abortion is considered illegal in most cases and carries criminal penalties. However, an exception has been made when the mother’s life is in danger, in cases of rape, or if the fetus has anencephaly.

In these circumstances, abortion is not considered punishable.

In September 2023, the Supreme Court of Brazil began to consider the possible decriminalization of abortion at the national level for up to 12 weeks’ gestation. Voting may resume before the end of 2025.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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