In a family-planning clinic in downtown Guatemala City, Ana Coj
awaits an injection she hopes will give her a radically different
life from the one her mother has. With regular contraceptive
injections, Ms. Coj says she plans to have just three children and
space them two years apart. Her mother had eight.
"My mother gets sick a lot and has a lot of pain, and having so
many children so close together is what has affected her health,"
says Coj, who at 18 already has a 10-month-old baby girl of her own.
"I don't want that to happen to me."
In a nation with the highest fertility rate in Latin America and
one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use, many here hope a new
law will allow more women the opportunity to make their own choices
about family planning. In the face of stern Catholic Church
opposition, President Alvaro Arzu signed into law last week
Guatemala's first official reproductive health policy.
The Social Development and Population Law, which covers a broad
range of issues, will institutionalize the sporadic and largely
underfunded reproductive health programs of the past.
"This law would make support of reproductive health programs a
policy of the state, and, as such, one that would have to be
respected and continued in future administrations," says Hector
Colindres, who heads up the Health Ministry's reproductive health
program, launched in January.
Mr. Colindres says the law will enable congress to assign funds
specifically for the program, which currently subsists largely on
ever-dwindling foreign aid.
The Catholic Church asked the president to veto the law. Similar
initiatives in the past had been blocked by church opposition. "Our
fear is that this law could be manipulated to promote abortions,"
says Nery Rodenas, the director of the local church's human rights
office. The church said it will be watching carefully to see if that
But supporters of the law, who point out that abortion is illegal
in Guatemala, argue that this law will protect the right to life -
the right to life of the nation's women, who have an average of five
"The fertility rate is a brutal attack on the health of women,"
says Telma Duarte executive director of the private Association for
Family Well Being. Ms. Duarte points to United Nations' statistics
showing that the maternal mortality rate in Guatemala is the fifth
highest in Latin America. She adds that this statistic is widely
recognized to be under-registered, according to some studies, by as
much as 60 percent. …