Contraceptive Access in Venezuela Enters Crisis Period as Abortion Remains Illegal and Maternal Deaths Rise
AS REPORTED IN A FEBRUARY 2021 New York Times piece by Julie Turkewitz, unplanned pregnancies in Venezuela have exploded as the country sinks further into economic turmoil and COVID-19 continues to strain the medical system. With the practical collapse of Venezuela’s maternity wards between 2015 and 2016, the country witnessed maternal deaths spike 65% in what was then the midpoint of an economic recession that has worsened into a depression, leading global experts to refer to the country’s plight as one of the worst economic crises in decades.
With the price of individual basic contraceptive devices like condoms outstripping the monthly minimum wage of $1.50 by nearly four times while abortion remains outlawed, the situation is dire. Free access to basic contraception, once routine in the country, began to dry up by 2015. By 2018 access to patches, oral contraceptives and IUDs were practically nonexistent in most metropolitan areas and completely absent in rural areas. Interviews with the remaining health professionals—more than 30,000 physicians have left the country since the start of the crisis, according to the Venezuelan Medical Federation—told reporters that the number of unsafe abortions has risen dramatically, frequently with tragic consequences.
While abortion is illegal in Venezuela, with the hemorrhaging of medical professionals since the start of the crisis, the number of competent doctors and careworkers capable of providing clandestine medical care has imploded. Increasing numbers of parents, forced to choose between being unable to feed a child or pay exorbitant rates for abortions provided by untrained practitioners in frequently unhygienic settings, are choosing to risk their lives in the face of horrific nationwide conditions.
Pushing back against the Maduro government on a number of abuses, including free speech restrictions, the Catholic Church in Venezuela has avoided focusing on the issue. As the death toll continues to rise and families are pushed further into poverty, the church hierarchy remain silent in the face of this crisis—a set of circumstances that could initiate and cement generations of poverty within in this historically Catholic country where millions continue to practice the faith.