By a seven to two vote, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court voted Wednesday to decriminalize abortion in all cases of rape. The decision sparked a sharp reaction from Catholic Church leadership which says it will try to overturn the ruling in a national referendum.
In its decision, the court ordered the wording of the current law, which allows abortions in rape cases if a woman suffers from mental disability, changed. The judges ruled that that allowing abortions for the mentally disabled but not for other women was a violation of constitutional rights. Judges Agustín Grijalva and Karla Andrade argued that no special protection should be granted one group of women over another, since all rape victims are subject to a criminal act.
Sybel Martínez, vice president of the Council for the Protection of Women’s Rights, praised the decision and said it gives hope to all women who suffer from acts of violence. “The old law made women victims two times, first for suffering the rape and then for being denied the right to terminate a pregnancy resulting from the crime,” she said. She added that she supports additional rights for abortions and will work with members of the National Assembly for new legislation.
Erwin Ronquillo, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, called the ruling a “blaspheme” and a “rejection of the will of God.” He criticized the fact that the court deliberated behind closed doors to reach its decision. “The right to life cannot be taken away from the conceived by a group of unelected officials meeting secretly,” he said. “We will fight this abominable decision and take our case to the people of Ecuador.”
Groups supporting abortion and rights and those opposed gathered outside the Constitutional Court in Quito, chanting and displaying signs while police kept the groups apart. Other pro- and anti-abortion demonstrations took place in Guayaquil and Cuenca.
Following the court’s decision, President-elect Guillermo Lasso said he respected the ruling and pledged his support for the separation of powers and the secularity of the state. “What happened today is a demonstration of democracy in action and I will always support the process,” he said. He added that his “personal, religious belief” is against any abortion but he said, as president, he will support the process and the will of the people. He said he does not support a referendum to overturn the decision.
Ronquillo said he is disappointed in Lasso’s position and said that church leadership will “engage him in conversations” once he assumes office in May.