Ecuador’s National Assembly has approved a new health code that would help all in Ecuador enjoy better access to health care.
The bill, nearly 8 years in the making, was approved on August 25 by a vote of 79 to 58, and now requires the signature of President Lenín Moreno to become law. The bill would guarantee the right to health universally and comprehensively, including for women, adolescents, and girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. It also would guarantee access to sexual and reproductive health care, and provide comprehensive services based on scientific evidence.
The bill’s approval by the assembly represents a great accomplishment by the many women's rights organizations that supported the initiative.
In a country where every day, 7 girls below the age of 14 become mothers and the maternal mortality rate is 41.1 per 100,000 births, the new code could dramatically improve the lives of all Ecuadorians by increasing access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. For example, it prohibits delaying emergency health care for any reason, including conscientious objection. This is an important step toward eliminating barriers to reproductive health care and ensuring that healthcare services are provided on a nondiscriminatory basis, in compliance with international law and some specific recommendations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health. The bill still lacks clear guidance on non-emergency situations, where timely access to care is also urgent and unregulated conscientious objection might cause delays inconsistent with Ecuador’s human rights obligations.
The code reiterates the duty of healthcare professionals to respect medical confidentiality, including in cases of obstetric emergency. This is crucial in a country where Human Rights Watch has found nearly three out of four abortion prosecutions where files can be accessed are triggered by a healthcare provider reporting a patient to the police.
The code also reinforces the country’s prohibition on conversion therapy, already contained in the Criminal Code, which bars any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The new health code also provides protections for intersex children, including a prohibition on offering or performing medical procedures that violate the personal integrity of any person who has not reached puberty, except when the child’s health or life is at risk.
President Lenín Moreno has a chance to improve the health and lives of all Ecuadorians. He should join the majority of the legislative assembly and sign this bill into law.