Ecuador: Criminalization of abortion affects rights and health

(Washington, DC) – Ecuadorian laws criminalizing abortion violate the rights and endanger the lives and health of women and girls, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 128-page report, “Why do they want to make me suffer again?” “The impact of the abortion lawsuits in Ecuador” documents how these laws are having widespread adverse consequences in Ecuador, costing lives due to increased maternal mortality and morbidity, cutting women and girls off from essential services and undermining broader efforts to promote health sexual and reproductive. Women and girls accused of abortion often face violations of their rights to medical confidentiality and due process, and face significant obstacles in accessing quality legal representation. The prosecutions concern not only women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, but also those who experience miscarriages or obstetric emergencies, or who are in urgent need of post-abortion care.

“Criminalizing abortion not only undermines the ability of women and girls to access essential reproductive health services, but it also exacerbates inequalities and discrimination,” said Ximena Casas, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ecuador should remove all criminal penalties for consensual abortion. At a minimum, it should ensure effective access to abortion on all legal grounds and stop prosecuting women and girls seeking essential medical care.

Having a consensual abortion is a felony in Ecuador, punishable by up to two years in prison for women who consent to have an abortion, and one to three years for health providers who perform an abortion. The only exceptions have been if the life and health of the pregnant person are in danger and in all cases of rape.

On April 28, 2021, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court issued a decision decision decriminalize abortion in all cases of pregnancy resulting from rape. A previous law only allowed such abortions if the person had an intellectual disability. The court ordered the ombudsman’s office to draft and present a bill to the Legislature to comply with the judgment within two months and asked the National Assembly to debate the bill within six months after its introduction. The court left the door open to further decriminalization, concluding that the National Assembly has an obligation to legislate in such a way as to respect a “right to live in dignity” and cannot shirk its responsibility to protect all people. constitutional rights.

On June 28, 2021, the Ombudsman’s Office presented a new law to the National Assembly in accordance with the court’s decision. The bill was prepared following a national dialogue with feminist groups and recognizes the right to abortion in all cases of rape in accordance with international human rights standards.

Human Rights Watch reviewed 148 cases involving women or girls, health providers, or companions accused of requesting or facilitating an abortion between 2009 and 2019. Eighty-one percent of cases were brought against women and girls, a disproportionate number of them in provinces where a large portion of the population was indigenous or of African descent. Most were young – 12% were girls – and almost without exception lived in poverty.

In one case, a 20-year-old Afro-Ecuadorian woman went to hospital after falling down the stairs at work. At the hospital, she learned that she was pregnant and had a miscarriage. She was arrested and charged with having an abortion and spent four months in pre-trial detention with her 3-year-old son. She was found not guilty at trial.

People face many barriers to accessing legal abortion and postabortion care in Ecuador, Human Rights Watch found. These include criminal prosecution, stigma, ill-treatment by health professionals, and a narrow interpretation of the exception that allows abortion to protect the health and life of the person.

Defendants who are convicted typically serve a suspended sentence, which often comes with community service or psychotherapy requirements, especially for women under 25.

Two women and a girl have been charged with manslaughter after an obstetric emergency. The 15-year-old girl was raped on her way home from school. She was sentenced to five years in prison after giving birth alone in the bathroom of her house, and the baby died. She spent four years and three months in a juvenile institution.

Women and girls suspected of having had an abortion have also faced violations of their rights to medical confidentiality and due process, as well as problems obtaining quality legal representation. Seventy-three percent of the cases reviewed were initiated after a health care provider reported a patient to the police, in violation of medical confidentiality. In 99 of the cases examined, police questioned women in hospital without a lawyer present, in violation of national law, while they were living or recovering from a medical emergency, sometimes fatal.

These interrogations also risked further compromising their health by interrupting their treatment and interfering with their medical care and their relationship with their doctor. Conduct and court decisions often reflected gender stereotypes and religious considerations. In several cases, women have been sentenced to community service in orphanages or to therapy intended to make them good mothers.

Part of the stigma and discrimination stems from the violation of the rights to full, clear, accessible and up-to-date information about reproductive health and health care options. In many cases, the woman had taken misoprostol, a drug with various gynecological uses, including to induce abortion, with little information or understanding of what the drug is or how it would affect them.

Many defendants said they used it as a contraceptive method or to “regulate irregular periods”. This is not surprising given the lack of comprehensive sex education in Ecuadorian schools. Ecuador has always taken a piecemeal approach to sex education, linked to the government’s efforts to curb teenage pregnancies.

“The government of Ecuador must ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services,” said Casas. “Newly appointed lawmakers and President Guillermo Lasso have the opportunity to end a cruel policy and join countries around the world reforming their laws to facilitate access to abortion, in line with their rights obligations human rights and the recent decision of the Constitutional Court.

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