Abortion debate sparks anger in Assembly; Highway collapses, pipeline closed, on Coca River; Labor union calls January strike; Assange can be extradited

Dec 13, 2021 | 18 comments

With the deadline fast approaching for the court-ordered revision of Ecuador’s abortion law, there is little consensus in the National Assembly on several key points. During debates on Thursday and Friday, pro- and anti-abortion factions showed little inclination for compromise despite the December 28 deadline to enact new legislation decriminalizing abortion in the case of rape.

A women’s right protester addresses a pro choice crowd outside the National Assembly on Friday.

In April, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current law outlawing abortion in all cases was unconstitutional since it deprived victims of rape the right to end unwanted pregnancies. In a Thursday message to all members, Assembly Vice President Virgilio Saquicela reminded members that the Assembly cannot oppose the court decision. “We are not here to debate the issue of abortion from the beginning,” he said. “We must focus on allowing abortion in instances of the crime of rape, which the Constitutional Court has ordered. I urge all 137 members to accept their individual and collective responsibility in working to resolve this issue. We must put passions aside for the benefit of the country.”

A major sticking point concerns the determination of rape. Some anti-abortion Assembly members are demanding that an abortion should be allowed only when a rape conviction has been rendered but abortion advocates claim this effectively continues the current ban since most final verdicts take months to be announced. “This is a blocking strategy against the court order since abortions must be performed within weeks of the commission of the crime,” said Democratic Left Assemblywoman Wilma Andrade. “To truly decriminalize we must adopt another mechanism.”

Some conservative members of the Assembly say they refuse to change the law despite the court order. “I stand with the church in opposing all abortions and I will never agree to a change,” said Social Christian Assemblyman Esteban Torres. “I refuse under any circumstance to oppose the laws of God.”

Highway collapses, pipeline closed, on Coca River
A section of the Quito-Lago Agrio highway, east of Quito, collapsed into the Coca River gorge Friday. Due to the progressive erosion of the valley wall, the highway has been closed to traffic since July as safety measure. In less than three years, erosion has claimed more than 300 meters of land above the river.

The section of the Quito-Lago Agrio highway that collapsed Friday due to erosion near the Coca River.

Following the highway collapse, Petroecuador said it is temporarily deactivating the the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline to drain a section that runs 50 meters from the affected roadway. Petroecuador said that no oil had spilled and that the action was precautionary. “We will install a parallel pipeline near the current one, situated further from the area of erosion,” the company announced.

It will be third operation this year to move the pipeline, which carries the bulk of oil pumped from Amazon oil wells, away from the erosion zone. The erosion caused a rupture of the pipeline in April, which contaminated several hectares of farmland near the community of El Reventador.

The Transportation Ministry continues to study rerouting options for the highway but says no decision will be made until at least February 2022.

Labor union calls January strike
The Unitary Workers’ Front (FUT) announced Saturday that it will stage a nationwide strike on January 19 to protest the labor and taxation policies of President Guillermo Lasso. Specifically, the union said it intends to force the government to retract a tax reform law that went into effect two weeks.

FUT said it has the support of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) as well as members of the National Assembly’s Pachakutik party. “We are inviting other labor organizations to join the mobilization and help bring the government to its sense and withdraw the tax law that was enacted illegally.”

The January protest will be third organized by FUT since August.

British court says Assange can be extradited
The British High Court cleared the way Friday for the possible extradition of Julian Assange to the U.S. to face charges of publishing thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011. The documents were posted on Assange’s WikiLeaks website. The judges ruled that a lower court erred in denying extradition over concerns for Assange’s mental health.

In its decision, the High Court said U.S. authorities have assured the court that “full efforts will be taken to assure Assange’s health, mental and physical” and that he will be placed on 24-hour suicide watch. Assange’s fiancée said an appeal of the decision is planned.

Assange was granted asylum in Ecuador’s London’s embassy by former president Rafael Correa from 2012 until April 2019 when then-president Lenin Moreno turned Assange over to British police.

Pending an appeal, the final decision for Assange’s extradition will be made by British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

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