This story is over 5 years old.


How the Disingenuous Attacks on Planned Parenthood Hurt Women Around the Globe

Anti-abortion activists in Latin America are using the deceptive Planned Parenthood "investigation" videos as an excuse to attack local family planning organizations.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

In Latin America and the Caribbean, abortion is heavily restricted in all but six countries. Of the seven nations in the world that forbid the procedure in all circumstances--including threat to the mother's life--five are located in Latin America.

Of course, the harsh restrictions don't stop abortion from happening, and horror stories abound: of 4 million unsafe and illegal abortions occurring per year; of women being killed and mutilated after botched back-alley procedures; of pregnant victims of rape and incest--like, recently, an 11-year-old girl in Paraguay who was raped by her stepfather--being forced to carry their abusers' children to term.


Since its founding in the 1950s, the International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF-WHR) has been working with local organizations to help women maintain reproductive autonomy despite such draconian laws. IPPF-WHR collaborates with 40 partner organizations in 38 countries throughout the Americas and Caribbean, working to ensure that women can access sexual and reproductive health services. However, because of the recent, deeply disingenuous attacks on Planned Parenthood in America, these international partners have come under fire as well. As anti-abortion groups and politicians rush to malign Planned Parenthood over deceptively edited videos, they're not merely endangering women's health in the United States: Their actions are threatening women around the globe.

Read More: In Nepal, Menstruating Women are Banished From Their Homes

Ever since a likely fraudulent organization called the Center for Medical Progress published videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives profiting off of the sale of fetal parts (a claim that's been roundly debunked), conservatives in America have been feverishly attempting to defund the organization on both federal and state levels. According to IPPF Regional Director, Dr. Carmen Barroso, something similar is happening across the region she serves, as anti-abortion and anti-contraception groups based in Latin America use the controversy as an excuse to attack local family planning organizations partnered with the International Planned Parenthood Federation.


"Each of our organizations has a different name; many are called Profamilia, and some are called MexFam," she told Broadly. "People are saying, 'Look, Profamilia is receiving money from an organization that is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue!'" (The International Planned Parenthood Federation is different from Planned Parenthood Federation of America--the former is a global umbrella network of organizations around the world and the latter, which precedes IPPF, is one of its affiliates--but it seems that opponents of family planning groups aren't too worried about this distinction.)

"There are online campaigns against [our partner organizations], with signatures asking the government to do investigations into them," said Dr. Barroso. "A couple of governments have accepted this pressure and have requested our associations to provide documents to them, which is fine. We don't have anything to hide." However, Barroso worries that the laborious process of complying with these requests will divert resources from the organizations' more important work. "If you didn't have these people pestering you, you would have more resources to do what you're there to do, which is to serve the needs of women and girls," she said.

According to Dr. Barroso, anti-abortion activists in Latin American countries are "playing from the same book" as anti-choice groups in the US. In a statement, Susana Chavez, director of Peru-based reproductive health NGO Promsex, agreed with this characterization. "In Peru, as well as in other countries in the region, anti-abortion extremists such as the Population Research Institute (PRI)… have used the fraudulent attack on Planned Parenthood in the US as an excuse to attack organizations like mine promoting access to safe and legal abortion across Latin America," she wrote. "As in the US, these extremists are joined in their anti-woman agenda by conservative, right-wing congressmen."


"These congressmen have been pressuring the Peruvian government agency that oversees international funding to launch investigations into NGOs like Promsex, making false claims of corruption," said Chavez. According to a representative from IPPF, the Peruvian international cooperation agency is now "conducting an inquiry into our member association, demanding documentation from our local partner regarding some of their programs."

It's not just Peru, of course. In Uruguay, a government official recently called on the Ministry of Health to investigate links between IPPF and their local partner "in light of the serious allegations in the United States Congress that [the organization] traffics and sells the organs of aborted babies." In El Salvador, anti-abortion activists have called for a formal investigation into Profamilia. In Mexico, where abortion is only legal in the capital city, anti-abortion activists protested outside of a MexFam clinic, demanding that the Ministry of Health perform a "thorough, serious, and speedy" investigation into the organization. "If IPPF is violating laws in the United States, MexFam in Mexico might be engaging in practices that constitute a crime," one protestor told El Universal. (Again, IPPF is not violating laws in the United States: Not only have investigations into Planned Parenthood in the US been falling flat, but IPPF and Planned Parenthood are also not the same organization.)

Preventing women from accessing family planning services doesn't merely deprive them of reproductive agency: Where abortion is illegal or heavily restricted, preventing women from obtaining contraception is potentially life threatening since many women opt to terminate unwanted pregnancies illegally. When performed in a hospital, surgical abortion is one of the safest medical procedures; when performed in an illegal environment, however, it's incredibly dangerous. According to the World Health Organization, a woman dies every eight minutes of unsafe abortion. In Latin America, 95 percent of abortions are performed in unsafe conditions, with poor and rural women more likely to experience severe complications. In 2008, 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region were caused by back-alley or otherwise illegal abortion procedures.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the most common complications of unsafe abortion are "incomplete abortion, excessive blood loss and infection." Less common side effects include "septic shock" and "perforation of internal organs." And millions of these procedures occur in Latin America per year.

The irony here is rich enough to feel suffocating: While Republican presidential candidates denounce Planned Parenthood as "sickening" or murderous, the fallout of their political posturing could put women around the world in harm's way. As anti-abortion organizations and activists around the world turn their ire on the International Planned Parenthood Federation's partner organizations in places like Latin America, women's limited reproductive options become more limited still.

"With fewer services, fewer women will have access to the services they need," said Dr. Barroso. "There will be more unwanted pregnancies, and there will be more abortion."