National Assembly members expressed confusion and anger following last week’s partial veto by President Guillermo Lasso of an abortion law that legalizes abortion in cases of rape. “Our challenge is to reconcile the president’s personal religious beliefs with the order of the Constitutional Court regarding the rights of rape victims,” says Alejandro Jaramillo, whose Justice Commission must make recommendations to the full Assembly.
In his partial veto, Lasso listed 61 objections to the law, some of which violate the Court order to revise the rape law, Jaramillo says.
Among the president’s changes that face the strongest Assembly opposition are his demand that abortion in the case of rape not be considered a right. “This is an exception to the law due to a crime, it is not a human right,” Lasso wrote in his veto report.
Other presidential objections include shortening the time period in which abortions are allowed from 18 to 12 week for indigenous and rural women who, supporters of the original legislation say lack easy access to health care and legal counsel.
According supporters of the law passed in February, Lasso’s changes erect new barriers to rape victims in accessing abortions. “The intention of the law, following the guidance of the Court, was to reduce the pain of rape victims but what Lasso proposes re-victimizes them,” says constitutional lawyer Angélica Porras Velasco. “It seems that he is adding new obstacles for victims who have already suffered great trauma, including requiring that the court sign off on individual abortions. In my opinion, his objections are in opposition to the Court’s ruling.”
Reconciling Lasso’s objections will be difficult, Jaramillo says. “We are not sure at this stage how we will come to agreement on a law that satisfies Assembly members, the court and the president,” he says. “It was a very emotional debate that resulted in the law we passed and to repeat the process, balancing the president’s personal beliefs with the legal requirements, will be almost impossible.”
One option the Assembly might consider, Jaramillo says, is to present Lasso’s objections to the Constitutional Court for review. “If this happens and the court concludes the veto violates the intent of their 2021 ruling, we would be back to square one,” he says.
Assembly leaders concede they do not have the votes to reject Lasso’s changes outright. The bill passed with 75 votes but would need 91 to override the veto. Legislators have until April 15 to vote on a final bill.