Abortion in Bolivia

Since 1973, 1 the abortion in Bolivia is illegal, except to prevent harm to the health of the woman or in cases of rape. 2

The penalty is one to three years in prison for the pregnant woman who consents to the operation, and one to six years for the person performing the abortion. If a woman performs the procedure herself, she can only be accused of consenting to the abortion. 2 However, it is difficult to get a legal and safe abortion, even if the woman has been raped.

Legal framework of abortion in Bolivia

In Bolivia, induced abortion is punishable in accordance with article 266 of the penal code that establishes that women can perform an abortion in an exceptional manner before judicial authorization.

When the abortion has been the consequence of a crime of rape, abduction not followed by marriage, rape or incest, no sanction will be applied, provided that the criminal action has been initiated.

Nor will it be punishable if the abortion has been practiced in order to avoid a danger to the life or health of the mother and if this danger could not be avoided by other means.

In both cases, the abortion must be practiced by a physician, with the consent of the woman and judicial authorization in her case. 3

Article 266. (Aborto Impune)

This criminalization of induced and unauthorized abortion is translated into clandestine practice by people of dubious training and in unhealthy and insecure conditions, discharging responsibilities of those who practice it causing the death of several hundred women a year in the country.

Some numbers on contraception and abortion in Bolivia

At the national level an estimated 80,000 abortions are performed every year. That translates into an average of 215 abortions a day. Although there is no accurate data on the number of deaths caused by unsafe abortion at the national level, WHO estimates that it causes 9.1% of maternal deaths in Bolivia. 4

In terms of the debate that arose in early 2013 5 in Bolivia about the possible decriminalization of induced abortion in Bolivia, it is important to try to understand the factors that caused abortion. Also, at the urban level, 48% of women had at least one unwanted pregnancy and 43.5% more than one. Although it is estimated that there is a deficiency in terms of information on contraceptive methods, which generates high levels of unwanted pregnancies, it is important to note that it is estimated that 90% of women in the city know at least one method of contraception. Moreover, 66.6% of those claim to know at least three different contraceptive methods. Likewise, unwanted pregnancy might not be problematic solved exclusively through greater knowledge of contraceptive methods. 4

Unfortunately, on the one hand, access to these methods is quite limited and on the other hand there is still not only a social context that is adverse to the use of contraceptives, but also a high level of sexual abuse of women.

Likewise, at the urban level, 61% of women have sex without safe protection. Similarly, according to a report 6 of the 2013 Ombudsman’s Office, at the national level 7 out of 10 women have been sexually abused and 6 out of 10 women have been sexually abused in their own home.

As a result, 13% of women in the urban area claim to have carried out an induced abortion, mostly violating the penal code.

The practice of induced abortion is not restricted to a population group of a specific age. In that sense, 17% indicated having carried out an induced interruption of their pregnancy between the ages of 13 and 19, half between 20 and 29 years and a third between their 30 and 39 years. 4

With respect to the methods of abortion causing the high level of deaths and health problems for those who carry it, low access to safe methods is emphasized. Surgical and medication methods represented respectively 56.6% and 21% of the cases. The remaining 21% proceeded to the use of infusions, injections, falls, loading of heavy objects and introduction of objects into the vagina. One of the reasons for choosing these less preferred methods is the cost, more than 51% of the women who aborted had additional costs of 250bs. Taking into account the psychological factor of carrying out this act highlights the low effectiveness of the induced interruption methods practiced. 1 out of 3 abortions failed on the first attempt, 1 in 10 abortions had to be carried forward on 3rd attempt. 4

In Bolivia, the use of modern contraceptive methods is considered highly subject to socio-economic status. A woman in the city who has not finished school is 5 times less likely to use a modern method of contraception compared to a woman who has been able to continue her studies after high school. In the case of having an unwanted pregnancy, 60.1% continued with that and reached the end of it. 4

Some considerations about the law

As mentioned above, while women who are victims of rape or whose life is in danger may have access to a safe and unpunished abortion service through a judicial application, women must face a number of obstacles in order to achieve Such as conscientious objection, judicial delays, threats and repression, not to mention the revictimization they suffer in each of the steps to pursue to obtain the desired judicial authorization.

It is in this long and tortuous process that many women by the time they obtain authorization are outside the “safe” period established for abortion, which can often have many more consequences. Or, in other cases, women claudicate in the legal process and opt for the clandestine route, exposing their lives in the same way. 7


  1. Back to top↑ «Women’s eNews – Bolivia’s ‘Bad Births’ Sit on Political Sidelines» . Consulted in 2009 .
  2. ↑ Jump to:a b «Pontificia Pro Vita Academy – THE ISSUE OF ABORTION IN BOLIVIA» . Consulted in 2009 .
  3. Back to top↑ «BOLIVIA. Penal Code. ” . Consulted in 2013 .
  4. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e Sandra Aliaga Bruch, Ximena Machiacao Barbery, Franklin Garcia Pimental and Louise Bury. “Avoidable situations: unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions in five cities in Bolivia”.
  5. Back to top↑ “The debate on the decriminalization of abortion is growing in Bolivia” . Archived from the original on November 24, 2015 . Consulted in 2013 .
  6. Back to top↑ «7 out of 10 women suffered sexual abuse in their lives» . Consulted in 2013 .
  7. Back to top↑ «BOLIVIA: Safe Abortion Nearly Impossible Even in Cases of Rape» . Consulted in 2009 .