President of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, has signed an executive order ending the country’s ban on the use and sale of emergency contraception, a step forward in a country with a total ban on abortion.
Until now, Honduras was the only country in Latin America that banned emergency contraception, which can prevent pregnancy after rape, unprotected sex, or contraceptive failure and is on the World Health Organization's (WHO) list of essential medicines. After the 2009 coup against then-President Manuel Zelaya, the de facto government prohibited emergency contraception – another example of how authoritarian governments undermine women’s rights, including reproductive rights.
In 2019, Human Rights Watch documented how Honduras’ total ban on abortion and emergency contraception put the health and lives of women and girls at risk. We urged President Castro after her election victory in 2022 to introduce legislation to decriminalize abortion, repeal the ban on emergency contraception, and ensure it is available to all. In December 2022, Castro’s administration approved a protocol allowing the use of emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence.
Last week’s announcement, made on International Women’s Day, was the result of years of advocacy by feminist organizations in Honduras. But abortion is still illegal in all circumstances and carries prison sentences of up to six years for both the people who undergo abortions and the medical professionals who provide them. Research shows the criminalization of abortion results in riskier abortions and an increase in maternal deaths.
Honduras must fulfill its international human rights obligations, ensuring effective access to emergency contraception, as well as to adequate sexual and reproductive health services and information. President Castro should not only fulfil her campaign promise to legalize abortion in instances of rape, risk to the life of the pregnant person, and risk of severe fetal impairment, but Honduras should also decriminalize abortion in all other circumstances and ensure women and girls have access to safe abortion and post-abortion services.