The lives of millions of women and girls across Latin America are at risk because of healthcare systems that prioritize the views of providers and officials over patients' health, a report from Amnesty International finds.
The report, Americas: The State as a Catalyst for Violence Against Women (88 pages, PDF), examined women's access to sexual and reproductive health care in eight Latin American countries and found that access to basic rights such as contraception and safe abortions often depends on the wealth of the patient and/or the religious views of health professionals or public officials. According to the report, abortion is banned without exception in Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Suriname — even when the health or life of a woman or girl depends on it — while in countries where the procedure is legal under certain circumstances, public health professionals refuse to facilitate it on ideological grounds. The study also found that women in countries such as Peru, which adopted a policy in the late 1990s to sterilize poor women in a bid to "fight poverty," have been forced to undergo sterilization against their wishes.
The report highlights cases of discriminatory legislation and state practices that amount to what it calls "institutional violence," including some in which women or girls experienced physical and emotional suffering due to abuse and ill-treatment when they sought basic reproductive health services or as a result of being denied such services. The report further argues that by upholding laws and practices that, for example, deny treatment to a pregnant 16-year-old leukemia patient who had requested an abortion so she could receive treatment, or that compel a 10-year-old rape victim to deliver the baby, governments not only fail to protect the basic human rights of women and girls but also commit further violence against them.
"Tragically, for women across Latin America, receiving life-saving medical treatment depends on the good will of a health professional or the depth of her pockets," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. "From El Salvador, where abortions are banned even when the life of a patient depends on it, to Mexico, where women living with HIV face forced sterilizations, women and girls across the region are being abused by the very professionals and systems that are supposed to protect them."