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Florida's strict laws make Latin America a potential destination to get an abortion

A woman holds up a sign with a message that reads in Spanish; "I will decide."
Marco Ugarte
A woman holds up a sign with a message that reads in Spanish; "I will decide" as she joins a march demanding legal, free and safe abortions for all women, marking International Safe Abortion Day, in Mexico City, Sept. 28, 2022. Mexico’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, has decriminalized abortion nationwide.

With the Florida Supreme Court upholding the state’s new stricter abortion ban, pregnant women in Florida — especially those in South Florida — may soon head to countries in Latin America, where several countries have legalized the procedure, a reproductive health expert told WLRN on Friday.

“We have something unique because we do have a population in South Florida that has a Latin American connection and that has cultural roots, family members and the language,” said Daniela Martins. “So it is very likely that we will see folks that do have that connection with Latin America now start to travel to Colombia, Mexico or Argentina for an abortion.”

Ironically, she said, women in Latin America and the Caribbean used to travel to Miami to get an abortion because it was illegal in their home countries.

“We're seeing a complete role reverse reversal now,” said Martins, an expert on women’s reproductive rights based in Miami who previously headed strategy for the nonprofit Women’s Equality Center in Miami.

Speaking on WLRN’s South Florida Roundup, hosted by Tim Padgett, Martins said there are women in Texas, for instance, already traveling to Mexico to have an abortion. The state bans most abortions after six weeks.

Mexico, Colombia and Argentina are among several countries in the region to legalize abortion in recent years. In Mexico, a wave of states have made abortion legal following a 2021 Mexican Supreme Court decision to no longer consider abortion a crime. 

The Florida Supreme Court last Monday upheld the state's ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That step allowed another, stricter ban to take effect on May 1 — which will make abortion illegal in the state after six weeks' gestation. The ban includes exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape, incest or human trafficking, or that threaten the life or physical health of the woman, and for fatal fetal anomalies.

“This six-week ban makes Florida more restrictive than most of the largest countries in Latin America,” Martins told WLRN.

READ MORE: Top Democrats denounce Florida's abortion ban at congressional hearing in Fort Lauderdale

The decriminalization of abortion in Latin America — described as the green wave or marea verde — began around the same time anti-abortion activists pushed to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The U.S. Supreme Court nearly two years ago ended federal abortion protections by overturning the landmark ruling.

Even if pregnant women decide to travel to countries like Colombia, Mexico or Argentina, the cost of travel will be especially difficult for most pregnant women, said Martins, who expects non-profit groups and others to provide financial assistance.

“It is only natural to see how these natural networks of solidarity and of companionship are starting to form and [abortion] services typically follow suit,” predicts Martins. “There will be an effort to help lower income women get a flight to Bogota or Cartagena or Buenos Aires if they need abortion services after the sixth week of pregnancy.”

Martins said those who do support reproductive rights for women are placing their hopes on passage of Amendment 4 in Florida in November. The Florida Supreme Court last Monday by a 4-3 vote approved for the ballot the proposed amendment that would protect the right to an abortion.

“My hope,” said Martins, “is to see that government interference [of reproductive rights] can be stopped once and for all in Florida.”

Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
Sergio Bustos is WLRN's Vice President for News. He's been an editor at the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida. Most recently, Bustos was Enterprise/Politics Editor for the USA Today Network-Florida’s 18 newsrooms. Reach him at sbustos@wlrnnews.org
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