Women’s healthcare in Cuba vs the US

By Val Reynoso

Cuba is an island in the Caribbean governed by a socialist state that has made strides in numerous aspects, including but not limited to socioeconomic equality, redistribution of wealth to the masses, advocacy for the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the end of the colonial rule in Angola during the 1960s.

Cuba has served as an inspiration for the overthrow of fascist dictators in other Latin American nations such as Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the neighboring Dominican Republic, along with an outstanding healthcare system that has even drawn attention from organizations such as the UN and UNICEF.

The United States, on the other hand, is a hegemonic Western nation with a capitalist-imperialist government that is rendered as the most superior in the world. The US is defined by the existence and persistence of systemic inequities, deepening class stratification, high rates of mass incarceration, homelessness, and poverty; as well as unique socioeconomic consequences faced by women, largely due to reproductive healthcare services not being universalized and not always covered by health insurance.

In comparison, Cuba outperforms the US in areas of women’s reproductive rights and abortion access, given its complete legalization of abortion and other healthcare services to women for free. The US is unable and seemingly unwilling to meet the standards of Cuba, given primarily the Hyde Amendment and overall privatization (“profitization”) of medical industries.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 brought radical change to the island in the form of new socialist socioeconomic and political structures, as well as a shift in the role of women in society and women’s reproductive rights, distinct to pre-1959 Cuba.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro believed that the liberation of women was vital to the socialist revolution. This idea stood in stark contrast to pre-revolutionary Cuba, which more closely resembled that of the United States, with regressive policies in terms of women’s rights and reproductive care under General Fulgencio Batista. Prior to the rise of the Castro, abortion laws in Cuba were based on the 1870 Penal Code of Spain and had many restrictions, some of which were loosened in 1936 with the entry of the new Social Defense Code.

This new penal code legalized abortion in the cases of endangerment of the life of the mother due to pregnancy, any form of rape, or serious medical complication of the fetus that would require the termination of pregnancy. During this time, Cubans who sought abortions due to health risks caused by pregnancy had to be granted permission from two physicians to get the procedure done.

Following the birth of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba became one of the first countries in the world to legalize abortion with full access in 1965, up to the tenth week of gestation, through their national health system. The Social Defense Code was replaced once again in 1979 with the adoption of a new penal code, which explicated what constituted as illegal abortion as well as punishments for those who conducted them.

Illegal abortions were defined as those done under conditions that neglect health laws regarding abortion. Likewise, those caught in violation of said legal abortion regulations would potentially face three months to a year in prison. Abortions performed for profit, outside of accredited institutions, or by anyone other than a legitimate physician would result in culprits being subject to two to five years in prison.

Abortions are also considered illegal in Cuba if executed without the consent of the pregnant patient and would result in two to five years of prison time for the executer of the procedure. If the non-consensual abortion is performed with force or violence, then the prison sentence is increased to up to eight years.

Likewise, menstrual regulation is implemented in the case that gestation is five weeks or less; women do not need to confirm their pregnancy, nor do minors need parental consent to receive menstrual regulation. Gestations of ten to twelve weeks would require confirmation of pregnancy to obtain an abortion and, along with that, the pregnant woman must be examined by a gynecologist as well as be given counseling from a social worker.

For those who seek abortions services, parental consent is needed for women under eighteen, and permission from a medical committee is required for women under 16. A committee of obstetricians, psychologists, and social workers would have to approve a second trimester abortion in addition to the patient satisfying the regulations for a first trimester abortion.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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