When Ecuador’s National Assembly begins debating a draft criminal code reform today, Ecuadoran women will notice a regressive change to the draft debated last year — the law does not eliminate the prohibition of abortion in cases of rape.
Human Rights Watch found, in a report published in August 2013, “Rape Victims As Criminals: Illegal Abortion after Rape in Ecuador,” that criminal penalties for abortion in Ecuador’s current criminal code drive women and girls to have illegal and unsafe abortions, thwarting Ecuador’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality and injury.
This year, a dozen women’s rights groups in Ecuador presented petitions to the Justice Commission, which has been in charge of drafting the criminal code reform. The women’s right advocates called on the commission to make abortion legal in all cases of rape, not just when the woman is “an idiot or demented” as the code currently allows. The response of the commission? To change the wording to be less offensive (now “a woman suffering from a mental disability, rather than “idiot or demented woman”). But these changes do not dramatically alter the substance of the law.
Women with mental disabilities who are pregnant from rape may be able to access legal abortion.
All other women and girl rape victims will not.
Last year some members of the National Assembly were willing to stand up for victims of sexual violence in debates on an early draft code. The 2012 criminal code reform bill included language that would exempt abortions from criminal penalties for any woman if the pregnancy resulted from rape, and to ensure that victims have access to comprehensive post-rape medical care.
This year, the assembly has abandoned pregnant rape victims, and is toeing the line President Rafael Correa drew when he stated that he would veto any bill that changed the prohibition on abortion.
The government’s own data saysthat one in four women and girls in Ecuador are victims of sexual violence. When abortion is illegal for rape victims, those wanting to terminate a pregnancy have to do so clandestinely. Most illegal abortions in Ecuador are unsafe, and abortion is the leading cause of female morbidity — injury, disease and disability.
What does Ecuador gain by continuing to treat rape victims as criminals?