As 2021 came to a close, reproductive freedom in the United States was hanging by a thread. The number of new state restrictions on abortion were at a record high and the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to overturn the constitutional right to abortion granted in Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago.
But 2021 also saw an expansion of abortion rights in several countries around the world—in keeping with the global trend of liberalized abortion laws over the past 25 years. Much of the recent progress has taken place in Latin America, a region with some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world. In the wake of the “green wave” of abortion rights activism that swept through Argentina in 2020, Mexico’s supreme court made a historic ruling in September 2021 declaring that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional.
Based on that ruling, which came after years of advocacy by abortion rights activists and organizations, including Ipas, the governments of Mexican states where abortion remains criminalized should now modify their penal codes and legalize abortion. Four states—Hidalgo, Veracruz, Coahuila and Colima—have taken that step so far.
As María Antonieta Alcalde, director of Ipas Central America and Mexico, said in an interview with NPR, “The green wave coming from Argentina…is going to inspire other movements. The case of Mexico proves that societies are ready in Latin America to advance on abortion rights.” Indeed, by the year’s end, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights had ordered El Salvador, which imprisons women for suspected abortions, to reform its punitive reproductive health rights policies. The ruling was made in the case of a woman who died while in prison for an abortion-related crime.
Efforts by Ipas and other advocates paid off in other countries as well in 2021. In India, amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act now mean that the opinion of only one abortion provider—instead of two— is now required for abortions up to 20 weeks, and single women can seek abortion services on the grounds of contraceptive failure. Ipas Development Foundation is now working with the federal and state governments to operationalize the amended law and initiate training and service delivery initiatives in line with the new provisions; these have the potential to drastically improve access for vulnerable women, especially in rural areas.
Positive law change also occurred in Benin in 2021, where a new law allows abortion for most circumstances through 12 weeks of pregnancy. And in Nigeria’s Jigawa state, a new law will help victims of gender-based violence (GBV) get comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. Lucky Palmer, director of Ipas Nigeria, says the measure not only will help victims get the quality care they need, but establishes the legal framework to punish perpetrators of gender-based violence.
As we look toward the difficult battles over abortion rights that lie ahead, in the United States and elsewhere, Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas, says we must keep up the fight for reproductive justice.
We’re fighting for a world where everyone can determine their own future and make their own decisions. Access to abortion and contraception is a key element of that. We can all draw inspiration and ideas from the progress made in 2021 and keep advancing this global effort.