In Ushuaia, Argentina a judge recently restricted access of poor women and adolescents to emergency contraceptive pills. The ruling suspended the free distribution of these pills through the public health sector. Opponents of the ruling argue it was made on scientific ignorance and will greatly affect the well being of poor women in Argentina.
The debate centers on the question of whether or not the emergency contraceptive pills induce abortion. Those supporting the ruling argue that the pill does induce abortion and therefore violates the constitution’s right to protect life from the moment of conception. However, opponents of the ruling, and the scientific community, argue that the pill does not induce abortion but rather it delays and inhibits ovulation and does not violate the constitution. Many other South American countries with strict abortion laws, such as Brazil, still allow the distribution of the pill to the public. Opponents continue that the restriction of emergency conception discriminates against poor women and adolescents because it discourages them from seeking medical care thus increasing the risk of pregnancy.
The poor and young women, as well as rape survivors, are vulnerable as many might seek illegal abortions as an alternative to the pill. Abortions are illegal in every case in Argentina and they are the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina. About 500,000 abortions occur annually throughout the country. Legislatures have consistently stated their opposition to modern birth control methods such as the emergency contraceptive pill and this position was reinforced with the recent ruling in Ushuaia.
In addition to Argentina, Chile has seen similar debates with regards to the distribution of emergency contraceptive pills. Chile’s medical protocols, under the Ministry of Health guidelines, currently allow health services to provide emergency contraceptive pills. However, some members of the parliament are attempting to change this by asking the Constitutional Court to issue an injunction against these guidelines. They argue that the pills induce abortion and that access to the pill interferes with the rights of parents to educate their own children. Others argue that the injunction should be deny because it would result in the pills not being available to anyone, not matter what her age or circumstances are.
Access to these pills is vital for the poor, rape survivors and adolescents because 90% of women in Chile rely on public health for pregnancy prevention. Without such prevention available to them through public health programs, many women have unwanted pregnancies or seek other illegal and unsafe prevention measures. In Chile, 15% of births are to girls between 10 and 19 years of age. Other countries, such as France and Great Britain, have lowered their pregnancy rates because adolescents have access to healthcare services and information.
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