Abortion in Costa Rica

Abortion in Costa Rica is severely restricted by criminal law. Currently, abortions are allowed in Costa Rica only in order to preserve the life or physical health of the woman. Abortions are illegal in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest and when the fetus suffers from medical problems or birth defects. Both social and economic factors have led to this legal status. It remains unclear whether abortions are legal to preserve the mental health of the woman.[1]


Abortions in Costa Rica are most commonly practiced in secret, either in private clinics or by other means where statistics of maternal deaths are difficult to obtain. In 2007, data revealed that the number of illegal abortions is on the rise, up to 22.3 for every 1,000 from 10.6 for every 1,000 women. This comes out to about 27,000 illegal abortions being performed in Costa Rica annually.[2]

Legal issues

Induced abortion is classified as a crime in the Penal Code of 1970, included in the crimes against life. Doctors who suspect that a woman has had an abortion are obligated to report them to the Organization of Judicial Investigation (Organizacion de Investigacion Judicial). Punishment varies depending on whether the woman consented or not to the procedure and whether the fetus had reached six months' gestation at the time.

Although the United Nations Human Rights Council recommended in 1999 that Costa Rica should introduce more exceptions to the prohibition of abortions, the actual Costa Rican legislature intended to increase penalties for abortions due to their Roman Catholic background.[3] Recent president Laura Chinchilla is strictly opposed to the legalization of abortion, so reforms to the law were unlikely during her term.[4]

In 2003, there were no women or doctors in prison for having or performing an abortion. However, there was one lay woman, an untrained midwife, who was accused of carrying out abortions and served a three-year sentence.

Public opinion

Public opinion is heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Given the influence of Catholic anthropology on public policy and culture, abortion under any circumstance is illegal and understood as murder. Accordingly, almost all doctors will not carry out an abortion for any reason at all.[5]


In 2003, a nine-year-old girl living in Costa Rica, known to the media as "Rosa", became pregnant after being a victim of sexual abuse. Consequently, Rosa was left in a state where her physical and emotional state was very delicate. The authorities denied her the opportunity to have an abortion, as they alleged that the consequences of an induced abortion would be worse than her carrying the pregnancy to term. Eventually, Rosa was able to travel to Nicaragua, where, despite much controversy, she had an abortion in a private clinic.[3][6]


  1. "Summary of Abortion Laws Around the World". Pregnant Pause. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  2. Ertelt, Steven (23 September 2008). "Costa Rica Report Indicates Number of Illegal Abortions Supposedly Rising". Lifenews.com. Life News. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  3. 1 2 Francoeur, Robert T. The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  4. "Costa Rican presidential candidate reveals opposition to abortion and same-sex 'marriage'". Catholic News Agency. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  5. "Costa Rica Country Program". Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  6. Chan, Sue (23 March 2003). "Nicaragua Shaken By Child's Abortion". CBS News. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
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