Abortion in Guatemala

Abortion in Guatemala is highly restricted and penalized. It is legal only in cases where the pregnant person's life is at risk. A government decision in 2022 criminalized abortions and increased the penalties for undergoing, aiding or promoting access to termination of pregnancy anywhere between 3 to 10 years in prison under the ‘Ley para la Protección de la Vida y la Familia’ or Law for the Protection of Life and the Family (Law 5272)[1].

Abortion in Guatemala is highly restricted and penalized. It is legal only in cases where the pregnant person’s life is at risk. A government decision in 2022 criminalized abortions and increased the penalties for undergoing, aiding or promoting access to termination of pregnancy anywhere between 3 to 10 years in prison under the ‘Ley para la Protección de la Vida y la Familia’ or Law for the Protection of Life and the Family (Law 5272)[1].

There is no updated data on the incidence of abortion in Guatemala. The Guttmacher Institute conducted a survey in 2003 on hospitals that provide post-abortion care. According to the Institute, 21,600 women are admitted to hospitals as a result of complications related to abortions every year [3]. This means, in addition to that, on average, there is one abortion for every six births and  about 65,000 induced abortions performed annually [3].

State of abortion law

Guatemala’s laws allow abortion if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. However, the increased penalties related to abortion, high restrictions, and lack of information puts the health and rights of women, girls, and queer people at risk [10].

What does the law say in Guatemala?     

Abortion Rights in Guatemala


“Therapeutic abortion- An abortion practiced by a physician, with the consent of the woman after a favorable diagnosis by at least one other physician, is not punishable if it was performed without the intention of directly procuring the death of the product of conception and for the sole purpose of avoiding a duly established danger to the life of the mother, after all scientific and technical means have been exhausted.”

PENAL CODE OF GUATEMALA ART. 137

In Guatemala, the only legal ground for terminating a pregnancy is when the pregnant person’s life is in danger, which is called therapeutic abortion [1]. 

The government led by President Alejandro Giammattei is demonstrably against abortion rights. During his administration in 2022, Guatemala was proclaimed the “Pro-Life Capital of Iberoamerica,” and prison sentences for abortion were increased from 1 to 3  years to up to 10 years  [1] [2].

Anti-abortion law

On International Women’s Day 2022, the Guatemalan Congress stiffened prison sentences for abortion seekers. Human rights organizations are concerned about this decision since it exacerbates the stigmatization and violence against the rights of Guatemalans [2]. 

How many abortions are performed in Guatemala?

Data and numbers of abortions in Guatemala

Even though the restrictive laws make it challenging to collect official data on abortions, the Guttmacher Institute surveyed hospitals and healthcare centers that treat people for post-abortion care. According to the study, there are 24 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 49. Furthermore, 36% of unintended pregnancies result in induced abortions, and one in three people who induce abortions are hospitalized because of abortion complications [3] [4].

As a result, the restrictive laws and lack of public policy regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in rural areas, among indigenous populations, and in the northwest, north, and southwest regions reported a lack of knowledge regarding safe abortion and reproductive health.

What do people in Guatemala believe?  

Opinion on abortion in Guatemala

Abortion seekers in Guatemala

Due to the stigma and legal restrictions associated with abortion in Guatemala, there is no reliable and up-to-date information on the characteristics of those who seek legal abortions. However, the Guttmacher Institute compiled information on unintended pregnancy and the estimation of unsafe abortion in 2006 in Guatemala. The study stated that the indigenous population and those living in rural areas, mostly poor, are three times more likely to have unsafe abortions. Moreover, the study discovered that, among the people treated for induced abortion in health facilities in 2003, 7,000 were from the metropolitan region, 6,050 in the southwest, 2,350 in the central area, 1,700 in the southeast and northeast, 1,650 in the northwest, 600 north, and 550 on the Peten region [4]. 

According to 1993-94 estimates made by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance regarding the age of those hospitalized for complications of induced abortion 12% was younger than 19 years old, 27% between 20 and 24, 23% between 25 and 29, 19% between 30-34, and 19% older than 35. Despite being driven more than two decades ago, Guttmacher’s study remains the only data source on the subject [4]. 

What abortion services are available in Guatemala? 

Abortion Methods

LEGAL METHODS AVAILABLE
OTHER METHODS

Abortion with Misoprostol

In Guatemala, access to abortion with pills is allowed under medical prescription, and the value of Misoprostol varies from $ 7.75 to $ 9.74 USD per pill, according to information from 2019 [5]. 

Which abortion pills are available in Guatemala?

Misoprostol

  • ACE Miso – 200 mgc
  • Cytotec – 200 mgc

In-clinic abortions

Since April 2014, training and implementation of Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) for people with incomplete abortion, the object of the exercise was to improve access to post-abortion care in four departments of Guatemala to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality [9]. However, there’s no information available on the cost of MVA methods [5].

How does the context affect abortion in Guatemala?              

Context and abortion

The indices used to measure the context in Guatemala reveal that there are still significant gaps in almost every area analyzed; the global gender gap ranks the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, excluding access to basic drinking water, all the indices are lower than the average in the region. 

This data aims to determine whether the population has the minimum social conditions necessary to live a healthy and happy life. Consequently, the information helps to understand the context in which people decide whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy. For example, in many instances, people would like to continue their pregnancy, but their social system doesn’t support them. Similarly, people would want to interrupt their pregnancy, but the system does not allow them or prosecutes them for it.

Knowledge and attitudes toward medical abortion in Guatemala

Medical knowledge about abortion in Guatemala

In Guatemala, stigma and obstacles to abortion also arise from obstetrician-gynecologists since many are not familiar with the correct methods of abortion with pills, and some are not familiar with the law. A survey performed by the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics found that 73% of obstetricians and gynecologists knew that abortion was legal when the pregnant person’s life was in danger. In other words, 27% of health professionals were unaware of the law and the rights of people with the gestational capacity and abortion; this increases the barriers to accessing safe abortions. Additionally, the survey found that 92% knew that Misoprostol could be used to induce abortion; however, only 35% knew the World Health Organization recommended dosage putting at risk the health of the people assisted; besides, only 25% of the health care providers were aware of the existence Mifepristone; a medicine that combined with Misoprostol increases the safety and efficiency of a medical abortion [7].

How did the pandemic influence abortion in Guatemala?

Impact of COVID-19

There is no information regarding how many abortions were performed before, during, and after the pandemic. However, Guatemala is one of the countries in Latin America with the highest adolescent and girl fertility rates, and there is a normalized epidemic of forced pregnancies. Since abortion for rape remains illegal, the abortion law and lack of gender perspective directly affects young people and girls. [8]. 

Research about the public health system, shows that during the first two years, many of the including sexual and reproductive health services shut down. This can be evidenced by the noticeable decrease in the contraceptive methods delivered by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance from 1,577,362 in 2019 to 1,505,594 in 2020 and 952,328 in 2021  2021; [11].

Moreover, the Ministry of Education recorded 69 cases of girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy in 2022 [6].  Additionally, the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health of Guatemala reported a record high of 72,077 births to people between 10 and 19 years of age during the first two months of 2021, a figure that is way higher than 12,379 births in the first two months of 2022 [9]. Finally, it should be noted that COVID-19 restrictions also created barriers for those who need to report sexual violence; in addition, the law in Guatemala does not allow voluntary termination of pregnancy in cases of rape. This makes women, girls, gender and sexual minorities more vulnerable.

What is the data gap in Guatemala?

What we don’t know

Guatemala’s glaring lack of data shows the country’s urgent need for updated abortion data in all areas. Additionally, Guatemala has a high rate of forced pregnancies, child pregnancies, and abortion complications. To ensure that human rights for marginalized genders is respected, it is critical to collect data to understand the entire picture and establish appropriate public policies. Having clarified the lack of information in Guatemala, to gain a deeper understanding of Guatemala, the following questions must be answered:

How many people are having abortions?
Who has access to legal abortions?
How many girls are forced to continue an at-risk pregnancy despite the law?
How many queer people are having abortions?
How many people know the abortion law?
What is the attitude of the population towards abortion laws in Guatemala?
How many abortions were performed before, during and after the pandemic?

*This page presents abortion data only for women and girls, since the information available is usually not separated by gender. However, AbortionData.org acknowledges this limitation.

 Where did we get the information?

Sources

[1] La MalaFe (2022) “¿Qué lecciones y retos quedan del avance de la marea verde en Latinoamérica?” Available at: https://lamalafe.lat/que-lecciones-y-retos-quedan-del-avance-de-la-marea-verde-en-latinoamerica/

[2] Bazán, C. (2022). Guatemala aprueba una ley contra el aborto y la declaran «Capital Provida». EFEMINISTA. https://efeminista.com/guatemala-ley-aborto-provida/

[3] Induced Abortion and Unintended Pregnancy in Guatemala. (2022). Guttmacher Institute. https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/ipsrh/2006/09/induced-abortion-and-unintended-pregnancy-guatemala 

[4] Prada, E., Remez, L., Kestler, E., Sáenz, S., Singh, S. & Bankole, A. (2006). Embarazo no planeado y aborto inseguro en Guatemala. Guttmacher Institute. https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pubs/GuatemalaUPIAsp.pdf

[5] Safe 2 Choose. Abortion in Guatemala | Important facts about abortions. (s. f.). https://safe2choose.org/abortion-information/countries/guatemala

[6] Niñas y adolescentes, una realidad devastadora. (2022). Grupo multi. https://www.grupomulti.org.gt/post/ni%C3%B1as-y-adolescentes-una-realidad-devastadora

[7] Kestler, E. (2011). Obstetrician–gynecologists’ knowledge of and attitudes toward medical abortion in Guatemala. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2011.09.015

[8] SWI. (2022).Embarazos forzados de niñas y jóvenes, una epidemia normalizada en Guatemala. https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/guatemala-embarazos–reportaje-_embarazos-forzados-

de-ni%C3%B1as-y-j%C3%B3venes–una-epidemia-normalizada-en-guatemala/47548934

[9] Kestler, E., Morales, E. & González, M. (2019). Atención post aborto en el primer nivel de referencia de salud en Guatemala. Revista Médica Gt, Colmedegua, Vol. 158 Núm. 1 2019. https://www.revistamedicagt.org/index.php/RevMedGuatemala/article/view/115/85

[10] Martínez, C., Rosero, C., Trejos, T., & Vargas, P. M. (2022). Colombia: historic advancement in the decriminalization of abortion. Center for Reproductive Rights. https://reproductiverights.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Colombia-historic-advancement-in-the-decriminalization-of-abortion.-Regional-perspectives-OK-1.pdf

[11] Boletín informe derechos sexuales 2021 – Mirador de los derechos sexuales y reproductivos. (2021). Grupo Multi. https://www.grupomulti.org.gt/_files/ugd/0a799b_af05c7606bd7416197e200f8c76e69d2.pdf

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