Although abortion is illegal in Ecuador, the ministry of health has announced it will no longer play a role in law enforcement. In a Friday directive to its regional office, the ministry said that the new emphasis is for the health of women and confidentiality.
Abortion rights supports are applauding the change while abortion opponents say the directive undermines a controversial 2014 law supported by former president Rafael Correa. Under the law, women who have an abortion can be jailed for up to two years while doctors performing abortions can serve up to three years.
“This great news for women’s health and privacy,” said Bernardo Vega, a gynecology professor at the University of Cuenca medical school. “Women who have abortions will longer be judged morally or criminally, as they have been, and it will encourage them seek professional care after the receive abortions,” he said. He added that he expects all arrests of patients and doctors to end as a result of the new rules.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses, complications from illegal abortions is one of the top ten causes of death for women in Ecuador.
Abortion opponents criticized the new rule, claiming that it contradicts the law.“This is another attack on our former president who supported the sanctity of life,” said Juan Esteban, a Catholic priest in Guayaquil. “De facto, this reverses the law against abortion. I am urging President Lenin Moreno to reconsider the health ministry’s new policy.”
Estaban added the policy change will bring abortion into the public health system, despite the law’s intention to forbid it.
The ministry of health’s new directive, signed by health minister María Verónica Espinoza, says that, “In the future, the focus of the ministry will be on respect for human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.” It continues: “Public health facilities will be available to assist women in all reproductive complications and will accept abortion patients into the system if they need care or family planning counseling.”
Debate of the 2014 abortion law turned into a battleground between feminists and Correa as the former president censured members of his own Alianza Páis party for opposing his legislation.