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QUITO, ECUADOR — On April 28, with seven of nine votes in favor, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador made a historic ruling in the case to decriminalize abortion for rape, first presented in 2019 by different local organizations in favor of sexual and reproductive rights.

The decriminalization of abortion for rape in the South American country represents an expansion of its legal framework where, until now, abortion was only allowed in cases where the life or health of women was at risk or in cases of sexually abused people with mental disabilities.

“Today is a win for all people in Ecuador. The Constitutional Court has moved to protect the fundamental human rights and health of women and girls.  A diverse coalition on the ground has paved the way to this pivotal moment and has raised awareness about the epidemic of violence and forced motherhood faced by women and girls in the country. Survivors of sexual violence should not be criminalized for seeking health care, and this vote is a huge step forward," said Heather Sayette, Regional Program Director for Planned Parenthood Global.

The overwhelming numbers show the urgency of this decision. Each year in Ecuador, two out of every three pregnancies are unplanned. One in four of these unplanned pregnancies occur among adolescents, according to a study published by the Ministry of Health, UNFPA and other institutions, with support from Planned Parenthood Global.

In 2018 and 2019, the National Assembly of Ecuador discussed reforms to the Organic Penal Code with abortion as one of the central issues. This newly open debate on the decriminalization of abortion in rape cases pushed a diversity of voices to join in the fight for a change in the law to guarantee health and justice for girls, women, and pregnant people who are victims of sexual violence. For the first time, the tone of this debate turned in favor of abortion.

In 2019, the proposal reached 65 of the 70 necessary votes in the Ecuadorian Assembly to pass. Although it wasn’t approved at that time, on April 28th of that year, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional articles 149 and 150 of the Ecuadorian Organic Penal Code, which imprisoned sexually abused girls and women who decided to have an abortion. 

Different partner organizations and allies in Ecuador have reacted to the court's decision. The president of Fundación Desafío, Virginia Gómez de la Torre says, “At last, pregnant survivors of sexual violence in Ecuador have a response from the state. They can safely obtain an abortion in the health system without feeling that they are criminals, without fear of death. Girls will be able to exercise their right as citizens and decide whether or not to continue with a forced pregnancy. Hopefully this is the beginning of the Ecuadorian state promoting a change in socio-cultural patterns that will reduce sexual violence and thus reduce rape, unwanted pregnancies and above all reduce the pain of the survivors."

Ana Cristina Vera, executive director of the organization Surkuna declares, “the decriminalization of abortion for rape was urgent and it is the minimum It is a beginning, an impulse. It is the hope that Ecuador can be a fairer, more dignified country because of the struggle of the Green Tide, that is here to stay. We will continue fighting because the #AbortoPorViolación is now a right, the pending debt is the #AbortoPorDecisión.”

Likewise, María Dolores Miño, executive director of the Observatory for Rights and Justice highlights that “This achievement is the result of years of struggle, of enduring insults and harassment by those who pretend to be defenders of life, and it has been worth it, because yesterday, even two of the most conservative judges of the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of girls and women who are survivors of rape, who cannot be treated as criminals or forced to carry non-consensual pregnancies to term.”

“Today that the Constitutional Court of Ecuador gave the green light to the decriminalization of abortion for rape. We feel that everything was worth it, all these years of generating evidence, of days and nights on the street raising our voice, demanding that women and girls who are victims of rape have access to safe and free abortion as a right. Today we are stronger, more united and deeply committed to building better conditions for the dignity of women and girls to become a reality,” adds Mary Cabreras, director of the organization Sendas.

This legal development represents a historic step forward in the protection and reparation process of women, girls and pregnant people who are victims of sexual violence. The profound social change that Ecuador has undergone in recent years provides some hope for the movement to completely eliminate barriers to access to sexual and reproductive health services.

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For 50 years, Planned Parenthood Global has supported access to sexual and reproductive health care and advocated for reproductive rights around the world. In partnership with nearly 100 organizations across nine focus countries in Africa and Latin America, we advance the health and rights of young people, women and families, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable and underserved. Each year, our partners provide sexual and reproductive health information and services to nearly 2 million people. Our unique sustainability model sets us apart, as we empower partners to stand on their own. We help grassroots organizations develop solid reproductive health programs, identify other sources of funding, build their communications and advocacy skills, and develop strategic plans. Planned Parenthood Global is the international arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.