Ecuador’s draconian abortion laws put the lives of rape survivors at risk, according to a Human Rights Watch report issued this week.
As the law stands in the South American country, a woman can only obtain an abortion if she is deemed to be “an idiot or demented,” or if the health or life of the woman is at risk, regardless of how she got pregnant. Otherwise, women and girls have no access to a legal abortion. In fact, it’s a crime both for a woman to seek and abortion and for a doctor to provide one.
The criminal code imposes penalties including prison terms ranging from one to five years for women and girls who obtain abortions. Medical professionals who provide them are subject to harsher penalties. These penalties drive some women and girls to have illegal and unsafe abortions, thwarting Ecuador’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality and injury.
Ecuador has a relatively high maternal mortality rate, with 110 deaths per 100,000 births according to data from 2010. For comparison, the United States has 21 deaths per 100,000 births.
This is a problem for all women in Ecuador, to be sure, but it’s especially acute for rape survivors. A 2011 government survey showed that one in four Ecuadorean women have been victims of sexual violence. If a pregnancy results from a rape, the survivor is really between a rock and a hard place.
“Ecuador’s abortion law drives women who are rape victims to take desperate measures. Doctors by law have to deny an abortion to a woman who has been raped and who is not considered an idiot or demented. The language is from the 1930s,” Amanda Klasing, Americas women’s rights researcher at HRW, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview in Washington.
“A woman or girl who has suffered the trauma of rape shouldn’t have to face the prospect of going to jail if she chooses to get an abortion. They shouldn’t be in a position where they are seen as criminals by the state,” she added.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Ecuador’s abortion restrictions will be lifted, or even eased, anytime soon. The country’s president, Rafael Correa, has been vocal about his opposition to easing abortion restrictions and he has a lot of support for that position among lawmakers.
Even though access to legal abortion services is severely restricted, women and girls are still getting the procedure illegally. According to HRW, complications from abortion killed at least 10 women or girls in Ecuador in 2011. However, that number could be higher because the deaths may be attributed to medical conditions related to the abortion, but not the abortion itself.
Restrictive abortion laws haven’t been shown to decrease the numbers of abortions, just the numbers of safe and legal abortions. According to a 2008 study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, Latin America has some of the highest abortion rates in the world. The region also happens to have some of the most stringent abortion restrictions.
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