Under orders from the Constitutional Court to liberalize the country’s abortion law, the National Assembly has resumed debate on a new law that would allow rape victims to legally end their pregnancies.. The National Police command in Quito says it expects protests outside of the Assembly building and is developing plans to keep opposing sides apart.
On Monday, the Justice Commission forwarded a proposal to the full Assembly to allow abortion up to 28 weeks from conception in rape cases. For women with disabilities, the commission recommends no time limit for abortion. The plan is expected to face stiff opposition from conservative Assembly members as well as the Catholic Church. For women’s rights groups, the measure does not go far enough.
During its deliberations, the Commission decided to drop the phrase “right to abortion” from the proposed law’s title. Assemblyman Ricardo Vanegas (Pachakutik) claimed that the designation of a right was a violation of the Constitution. “Abortion cannot be a right just because abortion has been decriminalized in some cases,” he said.
Some members of the commission opposing the proposal claim the court was in error in ordering the decriminalization of any abortion. “I think they violated their own Constitution,” said Geraldine Weber (PSC). “Nothing in the Constitution or existing law permits abortion under any conditions.”
Among other issues to be considered in the coming debate are defining the point at which life begins following conception and determining if a rape has actually been committed. Some anti-abortionists are insisting an abortion cannot be performed until a final verdict is rendered in rape cases. Those favoring reform say such a requirement would effectively deny victims of an abortion since most convictions take more than a year to be rendered.
Also open to debate, according to Weber, is whether conception by incest is legally a rape. “This is a gray area that was not defined by the court,” she says. “Is this a family matter or a legal matter?”
Women’s advocacy groups and several Assembly members are claiming that the proposed law should be expanded. “Abortion should be the right of all women for whatever reason,” says Democratic Left Assemblywoman Wilma Andrade. “In its decision, the court did not define the extent of the law, it only demanded decriminalization in the case of rape.”
Some Assembly conservatives say they will 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.”
Both the Catholic Church and women’s groups say their members will be present in large numbers outside Assembly chambers as the debate begins. “We intend our actions to be peaceful but we will defend ourselves if we are attacked,” a member of a Catholic men’s group said.