It is inspiring to see innovative
actions focus attention on the fight for reproductive justice and abortion rights in parts of the world that don’t typically receive the attention they deserve.
At the invitation of the Ecuador’s Coordinadora Juvenil
por la Equidad de Género
(Youth Committee for Gender Equity, or CPJ), the Dutch group Women on Waves arrived in Ecuador on June 14.
CPJ, a youth-led organization of men and women between 13 and 30 years
old, fosters the voices of young people and fights for legal abortion
and other youth-relevant gender equity a issues. Women on Waves (WOW), a Dutch non-profit foundation that advances women’s human rights, sails its ship "Harmony" in international waters
off the coasts of countries where abortion is illegal, with
the goals of preventing unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. WOW
has recently completed successful campaigns in Portugal, Ireland, Poland,
and Argentina. In its current campaign in Ecuador, the organization
"wants to inform women of the possibility to do safe abortion themselves
with medicines, Cytotec, that are available in Ecuador." The information
provided is based on research done by the World Health Organization
and their multi-lingual
site has a section with instructions on how to do a safe abortion.
The WOW site
provides a compelling daily account of their exciting campaign with
CPJ, with all of the
actions and the reactions
to their reproductive freedom messages and human rights-based activities.
By far the most outstanding
and "surprising" activity was the new safe abortion
hotline launched on the hillside overlooking Quito at the
statue of the Virgin of Panecillo. The WOW website describes the launch:
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"A banner was unfurled from the Virgin of del Panecillo, a statue of the Virgin on a strategic hillside visible from most of Quito. The banner announced the launch of a hotline created
by Ecuadorian activists to provide information on how women can safely
induce an abortion, should they choose to do so. The hotline will be
available to women throughout Ecuador. The enormous banner, reading
"Aborto Seguro 099004545" (Safe Abortion and the phone number) and
a side banner reading "Tu decisión" (Your Decision) were held by
a group of activists from the balcony…
What women’s health
and abortion rights backdrop in Ecuador led to this dynamic collaboration, culminating
in the launch and promotion of this critically-needed hotline?
The degree of violence against women in Ecuador is considerable; studies
from the 1990s found eight out of every 10 women have suffered some
type of physical, psychological, sexual, and or economic violence from
their spouse or boyfriend. About 30% of the population — mostly poor,
rural, and indigenous — have no access to even the most basic health
care, and a lack of contraceptives among adolescents contributes to
nearly one in 10 adolescents giving birth each year. Over a third of
all women in Ecuador report that their pregnancies are either unwanted or wanted later. The infant mortality rate in rural areas is almost double that in urban areas. The fertility rate for women with little of nor education is almost three times that of women with the highest level of education.
In addition, The World Health
Organization estimates that 95,000 illegal and dangerous abortions occur
every year in the country (30 per 1,000 women in fertile age per year). Unsafe abortion leads to 20,000-30,000 hospitalizations and is one of the leading causes
of maternal mortality. In fact, botched abortions
are responsible for 18% of maternal deaths in Ecuador and it is disgraceful that
there are only 200 registered legal abortions annually. Women can go to
jail for 1 to 5 years for having an illegal abortion and abortion and
those performing an abortion can go to jail for
2 to 5 years. Clearly, Ecuador regulates
abortion strictly; the Constitution defines life as beginning at the moment
There currently existsonly two situations in which abortion
is not a crime.
The first is where the life or health of the woman is in danger
and the women (or her husband or close family member if she is unable
to) consents and the danger to her life cannot be avoided by any other
method. The second situation is where the pregnancy results
from rape or esturpo (defined in the Penal Code as the carnal union
with an honest woman, employing seduction or deception to acquire her
consent) and the woman is
"insane or retarded." Thus, the law does not permit abortion
when a woman of full mental faculties becomes pregnant as a results of rape.
As part of a new onslaught
of fundamentalist actions in Latin America, political sectors in the
country are seeking to overturn even this limited right
to therapeutic abortion, which has existed in the country for several
But there is some
good news. In late 2007, the Ecuadorian Parliament
debated a bill to reform sections of the Penal Code that include therapeutic abortion
and/or eugenic abortion to safeguard the rights of women with high-risk
pregnancies and to protect the rights of women with mental disabilities
who are pregnant because of rape. Although that
damaging proposal was eventually rejected in November 2007, there is a backlash (as always) and
organized efforts to eradicate even the minimal abortion rights that
women possess (at least in theory) have been redoubled this year as
the Constituent Assembly currently reviews key aspects of the criminal
obstetricians and gynecologists recently issued a declaration denouncing abortion
as "not only an illegal act, but a criminal one" and stated that "under no circumstances
should abortion be decriminalized." The physicians made their stand
during the ongoing contentious debate over Ecuador’s Constitution.
According to Human Life International, language that could open the
door to the decriminalization or legalization of abortion has been inserted
into the current draft. As a result, a group of Ecuadorian evangelical
protestant churches is mobilizing via petitions and rallies to prevent
the legalization of abortion in the new Constitution. Stated a spokesperson:
"Should the country we want legalize abortion and convert itself into…the…silent
accomplice of the slaughter of thousands of unborn children?"
With a shocking rate of infant
mortality, violence against women, rampant poverty, and unsafe abortion
the third cause of maternal mortality, it remains a disgrace and a tragedy
that any discussion of the so-called rights of the "unborn" as defined
by oppressive and misogynistic religious dogma continue to trump the
lives and rights of already-born women and children. It is women,
after all, who are hurt, damaged, violated, and slaughtered by the
violent ravages of illegal abortion. Where is the outcry of the churches for them? The powerful voices
of CPJ and WOW are needed now more than ever to continue to bring the
issues of women’s safety, dignity, right-to-life, and reproductive
justice front and center to the people of Ecuador — and around the world.
Reproductive justice for Ecuadorian
women is limited at this time — and even that hangs by a thread. I wonder
what the Virgin of Panecillo would say to women right now.