Access to safe abortion for survivors

Access to abortion for survivors

November 25th marks the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in three women have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate-partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime (1).

In the Americas, according to police reports, 185,000 women and girls are being sexually assaulted every year, and yet, it is estimated that the number only represents 11% of the actual 1,680,000 incidents of rape. Depending on the country, the number of victims and survivors of physical and/or sexual violence by a partner ranges from one in five to more than half of all women. One in ten women in the Americas will be a victim of non-partner sexual violence in her lifetime (2).

Gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the biggest issues that has been brought up, debated, and dissected time and time again for decades, and yet, it remains a threat to women, girls, and marginalized groups everywhere.

GBV and reproductive choices

Aside from the physical and emotional trauma that survivors experience after cases of gender-based violence, survivors find themselves also having their reproductive choices taken away from them. Studies have shown that they are more likely to use contraception methods in secret, to be stopped from using contraception methods by their abusers, or to have a partner that refuses to use a condom. This results in unwanted pregnancy, which is prevalent amongst people who have reported partner violence compared to those who have not. Due to the circumstances and the abuse, these victims have a higher rate of having unsafe abortions and are more likely to become pregnant as adolescents.

Despite this, according to a 2015 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, only eight countries in the Americas allow women to have access to safe abortion in the case of rape. By restricting or outright taking away access to safe abortion, especially in the case of sexual assault, survivors and victims are faced with more barriers when making decisions about their own bodies, deciding their futures, and breaking the cycle of abuse.

According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, barriers to abortion lead to an increase in poverty, violence, and surveillance over women’s private lives. These consequences have a disproportionate impact on people of color, young people, survivors of GBV, people in the LGBTIQ+ community, and people who lack access to reproductive health care (3).

The law

Despite this harrowing data, Latin American and Caribbean countries have some of the most restrictive reproductive health laws and policies compared to other regions. Because of this, Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest rate of unsafe abortion in the world, outside of East Africa. In 2008, 95% of all abortions were unsafe.

Not only will restrictions on women’s reproductive health choices and access to abortion harm survivors and victims, but it also perpetuates the cycle of violence by making it difficult for them to leave their abusers.

What we can do

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence might only last for 16 days every year, but the fight against GBV and sexual violence is one that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind every day. Every minute, many girls, women, and marginalized people experience violence that can alter the course of their lives.

There must be a support system in place for survivors and victims alike, including access to reproductive health care and safe abortion so that they can break the cycle of violence.

1) “Violence Against Women.” WHO, 2021,,sexual%20violence%20in%20their%20lifetime. Accessed October 2022.
2) “Violence Against Women and Reproductive Rights in the Americas.” Center for Reproductive Rights, 2015, Accessed October 2022.
3) “Statement by the Gender-Based Violence Implementation Task Force on the Overturning of Roe v. Wade.” National Immigrant Justice Center, June 25, 2022, Accessed October 2022.