Abortion rights in Venezuela

| Jan. 21, 2013 | Caracas, Venezuela

Featured as part of a GlobalPost series on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Despite 14 years of left-wing government under President Hugo Chavez’s self-styled socialist revolution, Venezuela’s abortion laws remain governed by the ideology of the Catholic Church, with the practice being banned here unless the mother’s life is in danger. Voluntary abortion is punishable by up to two years in prison, though there is little chance of conviction.

Women in need of abortions either pay inflated prices to doctors on a black market or take under-the-counter pills bought for a few dollars at home. This, according to the Central University of Venezuela, leads to about 16 percent of all maternal deaths.

“Abortion isn’t a hypothetical situation, it’s a reality, it’s being done by women every day … our sisters, our neighbours; it’s a reality that we have to deal with,” said campaigner Tatiana Rojas, of the group Skirts in Revolution, in a television interview in November, adding that rich and poor were impacted very differently.

“[Wealthy women] can access foreign treatment or pay a private clinic,” she said, “whereas poor women are exposed to a clandestine market, irregular clinics, [or] they perform it upon themselves.”

Campaigns, however, have failed to gain any traction here. Skirts in Revolution’s abortion helpline was off the hook last week, its website is down and the group has not updated its Twitter feed for two months.

In Venezuela, campaigns such as this are often overshadowed by a loud-mouthed political polarization rarely seen in the Western world.