A green handkerchief with the hashtags #DéjameDecidir (let me decide) and #AbortoPorViolación (abortion in cases of rape) has become emblematic of the campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Ecuador. 

© 2019 Fundación Desafío

(Washington, DC) – Ecuador’s National Assembly should decriminalize abortion for survivors of rape, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of a planned presentation to the Assembly’s Justice Commission via Skype. José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, will urge the commission to support a proposal to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape, in line with its obligations under international human rights law.

“The Justice Commission in Ecuador’s National Assembly has a crucial opportunity to protect human rights and dignity by giving women and girls who have survived rape the chance to decide about whether to continue a pregnancy,” Vivanco said. “Denying rape survivors the right to decide about whether to continue a pregnancy is cruel, and Ecuador should ensure that no woman or girl must continue a forced pregnancy against her wishes.”

Abortion is legal in Ecuador only when a pregnant woman’s life or health is in danger, or when a woman with a mental disability is pregnant from rape. The Justice Commission is considering a proposal to decriminalize abortion for women and girls pregnant from rape, as part of a set of reforms to the country’s criminal code. The commission will decide on the language that is sent to the full Assembly for a vote.

Ecuador is one of only a few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that does not allow access to abortion for survivors of rape. The country has high rates of gender-based violence, with an estimated 1 in 4 women facing sexual violence in her lifetime, according to a 2012 survey. The country’s high rate of rape among adolescent girls is of particular concern, Human Rights Watch said. Approximately 2,000 girls under age 14 give birth in Ecuador each year. All are considered pregnancies from rape because 14 is the age of sexual consent in Ecuador.

Human Rights Watch published a 2013 report documenting the impact of the lack of access to abortion for rape survivors. The report found that criminal penalties for abortion drive some women and girls to have illegal and unsafe abortions, undermining Ecuador’s efforts to reduce preventable maternal death. The criminal code imposes penalties including prison terms ranging from six months to two years for women and girls who have abortions.

Since the report’s publication, the Assembly has not changed the penal code to allow access to abortion in any additional circumstances, Human Rights Watch said.

“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,” Vivanco said. “Women and girls pregnant from sexual violence should have the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy, and should have access to safe, legal abortion.”