Safe Abortion in Cuba:
Avoidance is a better way
By Tania Rendón Portelles (ACN)
Tuesday, 17 July 2018 11:25
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
The protagonist of this story, Rosalba, may have several names, as there are many who, faced with an unexpected pregnancy, find themselves in the difficult situation of what to do: have a child or wait longer.
Many people in the home intervene and give their opinions left and right, and while Rosalba can hardly sleep and stress upsets her, she tries to listen to the views of each one to make the best decision.
Now, she regrets her own lack of care and that of her partner, and is afraid of using abortion as a contraceptive method, but at the same time, she has not yet planned or wanted to become a mother.
Rosalba will not be the first or the last woman between this three and two, and there is a question that she expects, without surprises, every time someone knows her condition: are you going to take have the baby or not?
In Cuba, contrary to other Latin American countries, social and moral acceptance of abortion, as well as its practice, is common.
The last National Fertility Survey was conducted in the Greater Antilles in 2009 by the National Statistics and Information Office. It highlights the high prevalence of these situations in Cuba, which has led specialists to say that these procedures are currently used as contraceptive methods.
In other words, abortion becomes an alternative to the non-use – or misuse – of different methods to avoid pregnancy.
Although the archipelago lacks an abortion law, its practice has been decriminalized since 1965. Up to 10 weeks of pregnancy you do not need to give any reason to opt for this practice.
The use of abortion as an alternative to avoid being a mother or having more children has also been due to the fact that medical professionals are safe and reliable to perform this procedure.
Here in the Caribbean nation, abortion or curettage is safe, comfortable and free, despite the discomfort it can cause in patients or the complications that sometimes occur.
Today, Cuban birth control is centralized from the primary health care level, which is a guarantee for any procedure in this regard. It includes counseling and family planning consultations, with the expectation of reducing unwanted pregnancy, maternal mortality, and infant mortality.
It is a strength for Cuban women their right to decide about their bodies. Specialists, however, warn that this practice should not become a common occurrence.
Even when school-based sex education campaigns are implemented, contraceptive methods are offered at very low prices, and it is emphasized that avoidance is best, there is generally little knowledge related to sexuality, especially among adolescents.
It is almost always women who decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy, partly because of their empowerment achieved and partly because of men’s lack of responsibility for reproduction and the consequences of unprotected sex.
It is also recognized that there are multiple causes involved in the decision to be a mother or to have more children. These include: unsuitable age for pregnancy, pregnancy very close to the last birth, ignorance, misuse, failures and limited availability of contraceptives, obstacles to personal projects, prejudice and poor material and family conditions.
Hence, the best method will always be protection, something that Rosalba understood very well, for whom the termination of her pregnancy was traumatic.
Whoever has gone through that tough time knows how difficult it is to make that decision, she shared with ACN.
It should also be noted that in Cuba, the illegal termination of pregnancy is criminalized, i.e., outside health institutions, as established by the Criminal Code since 1979.
Previously, since 1965, the procedure had been hospitalized, after many women died on the island due to poor home practices; however, in 1968, the official figures for abortion in the country began to be recorded.
There remain several questions which need to be answered, even in the face of the high number of abortions. A few are collected in a 2014 research study by the University of Havana:
To what extent has safe abortion and its social legitimization created a “culture of abortion” among Cuban women? Do they really know the risks involved in abortion? Do men and women receive age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services? Is there awareness that prevention is better than action?
Despite the possibility of betting on safe and legal abortion, an inalienable right conquered by Cuban women as a result of the Revolution, this option does not eliminate its risks and consequences for women’s health.