Analyzing the practice of abortion in adolescents also raises the issue of the reproductive rights of this population group and the means by which they are ensured. In the case of the majority of Latin American and Caribbean women, these rights are not respected, or are only partially so. This lack of enforcement particularly affects young women. Respect for these rights, which are part of human rights, may significantly contribute to preventing adolescents from exercising their sexuality in risky conditions. To guarantee them, young people should receive sufficient education on sexuality and reproductive health, and have access to effective contraceptive methods that enable them to prevent unwanted pregnancies and protect them from STDs.
Failure to comply with these rights does not affect all women in the same way. Youngest women will always be the most affected, particularly when they live in disadvantaged economic and social conditions and are dependent on other people.
At the same time, denouncing women that have had an abortion when they receive post-abortion care at a particular health facility constitutes a clear violation of several rights. These include the right to confidential professional medical attention, women’s right to decide about their own reproduction, and their right to be treated with respect by health providers.
A situation of the clear violation of these rights was revealed in a study conducted in El Salvador, in which 46 files on women who had been denounced for abortion were examined. It found that 50% of these denunciations were submitted by hospital personnel. Moreover, the majority of women affected by the penalization of abortion belonged to highly vulnerable groups (young and single) and groups who only had access to precarious abortive methods. The majority, 31 were under the age of 25 (3 under 15, 14 aged 15 to 19, and 15 aged 20 to 24) (CRLP, 2000).
Adolescents’ right to health, including reproductive health, was internationally recognized at the Convention on the Rights of the Child, sponsored by the United Nations and in effect since 1990. This convention is usually applied to people under the age of 18. Article 24 of this convention acknowledges children’s right “to enjoy the highest possible level of health and services for the treatment of diseases and the rehabilitation of health”. Despite the fact that most adolescents are unaware of their reproductive rights, they always want the health personnel treating them with respect (Raguz, 2001).
Access to effective contraceptive methods also falls under women’s reproductive rights. Apropos of this, Mahler (1993) states that although in developing countries family planning is conceived of as a human right, very few assume this responsibility as a democratic right that can benefit anyone. For Mahler, guaranteeing universal access to contraceptive methods is a goal that has yet to be achieved. Failure to ensure this right, he explains, affects the young, particularly female adolescents, the most.
Cases of sexual abuse are also a violation of adolescents’ rights. In addition to the violence that perpetrators of these abuses inflict on women, there is a lack of willingness on the part of the judicial, health and civil authorities to ensure that these rights are enforced. Moreover, in the case of abortions that follow from sexual abuse, legislation tends to penalize only women rather than the men responsible for pregnancy (CDM, 2004).
Although the right to abortion due to rape is legally protected in many Latin American countries, women, particularly adolescents, face many obstacles to interrupting pregnancy under these circumstances. Following the procedure for obtaining authorization to abort in this case is often difficult since it generally requires previous approval from various legal and health organizations (Lara, et al., 2003).
Another barrier to gaining access to these reproductive rights is the attitude of doctors. For personal reasons, many of them refuse to perform abortions, even though they may be permitted by law, as in the event of rape. In a study conducted between 1998 and 1999 on 467 gyneco-obstetricians affiliated with public hospitals in Buenos Aires, 78% of the interviewees said they agreed that a woman under 15 should abort if pregnancy was the result of rape (Gogna et al., 2002). At the same time, in an opinion survey given to male and female gyneco-obstetricians in Honduras, 31.6% of the former and only 21.1% of the latter felt that sexual abuse was a valid reason for interrupting a pregnancy. As for decriminalizing abortion in the event of rape or incest, 52.3% of the males and 55% of the women were in favor (CDM, 2004).
Those opposed to the legalization of abortion often argue that this practice is an assault on the right to life of the unborn. However, they tend to ignore the consequences of non-abortion in women facing an unwanted pregnancy, particularly younger women who are at a great disadvantage in being able to deal with a situation of this nature.