Tensions rise in Ecuador after not granting exception to abortion law

Akriti Dhasmana, Staff Writer

Hundreds of women gathered in front of the parliament building in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, on Tuesday, September 17 after the Congress failed to pass a bill that would have decriminalized abortion for rape victims.

Abortion is legal in Ecuador only in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a sexual crime is committed against a woman with any mental disability.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, approximately 2000 girls under 14 give birth in Ecuador each year. 14 is the legal age of sexual consent in Ecuador which makes all these cases instances of rape.

Gender-based violence is also exceptionally high in the country.

According to a 2012 survey, one in every four women in Ecuador faces some sort of sexual violence during her lifetime.

Pregnancies resulting from sexual crimes among adolescents have led to increase in back-street abortions. These illegal abortions caused 15.6 percent of all maternal deaths in 2014.

“I think that when the government makes it illegal for a woman to go and get a safe abortion in a hospital with specialists, then that same woman or girl will find some other illegal, less safe way to abort,” Carolina Missura ’22, a Union student from Ecuador said. “In this case, the health of both the mother and the child are at risk. I personally believe that the decision to have or not should be made during sex and not during pregnancy.”

The current law, which has been in place since 1938, lays down sentences ranging from six months to two years in prison for women who seek illegal abortions.

The bill that failed in the Assembly on Tuesday would have expanded access to abortion in cases of rape, incest or fetal malformation.

It fell short of five votes in the parliament as 65 representatives voted in favor of the bill 59 legislators voted against while six abstained.

Religion plays a role in creating the divide in opinions in the Catholic country. Before the vote on Tuesday, the Archbishop of Quito, Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus urged lawmakers not to amend the law. “God is the God of life, not the God of death,” he told the Guardian.

Ecuadorians supporting the pro-choice movement still remain hopeful. “When abortion is legal a woman can choose to give birth to a child that is wanted. Making it illegal is not a promise of a good life for the child but it is a promise of a harmful life for the mother,” said Missura.