Scores of women promoting access to safe abortions, sex education and contraception across the Americas have endured death threats, public harassment and physical attacks, a human rights group said Wednesday.
Amnesty International said those activists are facing "increasingly vicious smear campaigns" and threats aimed at curbing any debate on these issues, with public attacks from private citizens and government representatives alike.
"Daring to speak about abortion and sex education in Latin America seems to be reason enough to be labelled a 'criminal,' a 'murderer,' and even a 'terrorist,'" said Amnesty International's Americas director Erika Guevara.
"Unless governments step up in their responsibility to respect their work and protect these courageous human rights defenders, this situation will continue to deteriorate dangerously in the near future," Guevara said.
In a report, Amnesty listed examples such as a case in Paraguay where activists from women's rights group CLADEM backed a girl's bid to have an abortion after she was raped by her mother's boyfriend.
The child, now 11, gave birth to a girl in August after the authorities refused to let her have an abortion. The activists, meanwhile, said they received threatening phone calls, their computers were hacked, and their cars were vandalized.
In Mexico's eastern state of Yucatan, where abortions are legal under certain circumstances, most of the staff of the only clinic providing legal abortions resigned amid a "brutal campaign" against the organization.
"They were too afraid of what could happen to them if they were identified as working in the clinic," Amnesty said.
In El Salvador, where abortion is illegal, members of two women's rights organizations faced "a cruel harassment campaign" after they backed 17 women who were jailed on homicide charges after undergoing abortions.
Anti-abortion groups, conservative media outlets and politicians charged that the activists were "promoting a culture of death" and "willing to multiply the blood already running through the rivers of our country," Amnesty said.