Post-abortion care and medical neutrality of health professionals in Latin America

April 22, 2016


The longstanding provider-patient confidentiality relationship is quietly eroding as an alarming number of medical staff across Latin America are reporting women and girls to the police for having abortions. Many countries now require, protect or encourage medical providers to breach their confidentiality duties when they treat women seeking post-abortion care. This topic is discussed in the new publication Betraying women: Provider duty to report, published by the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law in partnership with Ipas. 

This 16-page report covers the three main ways health-care providers are compelled to breach confidentiality, based on varying Latin American laws. Also, the publication provides recommendations for international human rights bodies, governments and health-care professionals to protect women’s right to confidentiality as well as health providers’ ethical obligation to uphold that right. 

Human rights defenders

The document states: “Health-care providers play an important role in society as human rights defenders. Legal obligations to breach patient confidentiality degrade the patient-provider relationship and infringe on medical professionals’ role as protectors of the human rights of women and girls.” In this light, recommendations for health workers and their professional organizations include:

  • Re-establish ethical norms based on international ethical and human rights standards.
  • Raise awareness among colleagues of their legal rights and responsibilities in the health-care setting.
  • Establish third-party oversight, such as a medical board, with the capacity to hold individuals accountable for breaches of ethical duties.
  • Reorient health services to promote the provision of human rights-centered, patient-centric care.

Betraying women: Provider duty to report. Legal and human rights implications for reproductive health care in Latin America. O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University & Ipas, March 2016