One year after Bolivia removed legal barriers to abortion, Ipas trains police on women’s new rights

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brochure coverA 10-step guide for police instructs how to handle sexual violence cases and ensure women can access legal abortion services.

One year after Bolivia’s highest court ruled to end the requirement for judicial authorization for women seeking legal abortion in Bolivia, Ipas and partners are hard at work ensuring law enforcement officers, health workers and women themselves know the legal grounds for accessing abortion care.

Abortion is legal in Bolivia in the case of rape and incest and when a woman’s health or life is at risk; as a result of last year’s Feb. 5 ruling, women no longer need to seek a judge’s approval before having an abortion in those circumstances. So far the nations’ public hospitals are reporting 13 legal abortions carried out under the new legal terms, and the Ministry of Health recently issued a resolution calling for mandatory compliance with the ruling in all public and private health-care facilities, establishing a nationwide norm that should allow more women to access timely legal abortion care.

In collaboration with partners, Ipas has long been educating police and health workers on how to properly handle sexual violence cases, and last year’s ruling provides an opportunity to offer updated trainings and materials. For example, “Sexual violence is a social justice problem,” a newly revised 10-step guide for police working with victims of sexual violence, instructs police to tell victims they are entitled to legal abortion care if they become pregnant from rape. Ipas worked with Catholics for Choice (Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir), and the Bolivian police force will distribute thousands of copies to its officers.

“While the court’s ruling is legally binding and mandatory, some professionals are opposed and continue to be a barrier for women who need and are entitled to safe abortions,” explains Malena Morales, Ipas Bolivia’s country leader. “That’s why we’re investing so much time and energy in training and education. It’s the best way to make the court’s ruling a reality for women.”

Ipas Bolivia has also produced various radio programs in Spanish and the nation’s two predominant indigenous languages—Aymara and Quechua—to raise awareness among men and women about issues surrounding sexual violence and to inform them that abortion is now easier to access under certain circumstances.

Online resources tackle sexual violence

  • Ipas Bolivia’s “Campaign against Sexual Violence” consists not only of a “radio novella,” but also hundreds of shorter radio segments, announcements and jingles in Spanish, Aymara and Quechua (some of which are available for online listening).

  • Ipas and Marie Stopes International developed a 24-chapter Spanish-only “radio novella” called “Historias de Agua Clara” (you can listen to some chapters online) that tells the stories of characters who experience sexual violence in order to educate listeners on how they can help end such violence.