Ecuador’s Supreme Court has decriminalized abortion in rape cases, a major step in a traditional Catholic country.
The Constitutional Court voted 7-2 in favor of declaring two articles of the Criminal Code unconstitutional.
The decision was made in response to the mediation of women’s rights groups, paving the way for changes in some parts of the legislation.
Abortion remains a divisive issue in Latin America, where countries have strict laws prohibiting termination.
The only places where abortions are currently legal in the region are Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Guyana, and parts of Mexico.
But abortions are allowed in rape cases in several countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Panama, according to the Center for the Protection of the Rights of Reproductive Rights.
Ecuadorian law allows abortion only if the mother’s life is in danger or after the rape of a woman with a mental disability. The court ruled that abortion was decriminalized in all cases of pregnancy as a result of rape.
The court can now demand that the National Assembly amend the articles declared unconstitutional. In 2019, the assembly voted against decriminalizing abortion in all cases of rape and fetal abnormalities amid strong opposition from the influential Roman Catholic Church.
Pro-election activists celebrated in front of the Constitutional Court building in the capital, Quito. The Ecuadorian Women’s National Coalition, a human rights organization, said it was a “historic” day but that it would continue to “fight” to make abortion legal in all circumstances.
Lolo Migno, one of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists, said on Twitter (in Spanish): “I am writing this because I do not believe in it. “Girls and women who have been raped in Ecuador today have a second chance.”
There were also some demonstrations by anti-abortion activists who criticized the vote. The Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference has expressed concern over a letter to the head of the Constitutional Court.
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According to the human rights organization Fundación Desafío, between 2008 and 2018, up to 20,000 girls under the age of consent in Ecuador were born in the country. And the group notes that a quarter of all pregnancies between the ages of 15 and 19 were the result of rape.
Meanwhile, on average, 11 women in the country report rape cases every day.
President-elect Guillermo Lasso, a conservative Catholic ombudsman who takes office on May 24, said he “fully respects” the decision. “The independence of the branches of government and the secular nature of the state are principles that cannot be negotiated,” he said in a statement.
In Latin America, the election campaign, known as the “green wave” based on the worn color of the protesters, has grown. In January, Argentina, one of the most influential countries in the region, legalized abortion before the 14th week of pregnancy.
Some other countries have banned abortions altogether. These include Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras, where parliament passed a bill that would make it virtually impossible to legalize abortion.