On January 28th, 2021 an amendment to Article 67 of the Honduras constitution was ratified by Congress, effectively creating a legal “shield” against future changes to the current complete ban against abortion in the country. This latest change endangers both the rights and safety of thousands of women in a country whose sexist “machismo” culture enables rampant acts of femicide and oppression without consequence
Honduras is currently one of four countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that imposes a total ban on abortion that extends to cases of rape, incest, and dangerous pregnancies. Furthermore, Honduras is the only country that also prohibits the use of emergency contraceptives. Not only is this incredibly discriminatory in the realm of women’s reproductive rights, but, in a country labeled as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, it significantly increases the likelihood for unwanted pregnancies and, as a result, unsafe abortions.
Research from Guttmacher Institute has found that abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is restricted and in countries where abortion is widely available. This means that even if abortions are banned, women are still having them. With no other options available, desperate women are forced to turn to extremely unsafe measures to terminate their pregnancies including drinking toxic solutions and inflicting major trauma to their abdomen. Such drastic measures have lasting implications for a woman’s body which extend beyond their reproductive system. 5 million women are hospitalized each year for abortion-related complications such as hemorrhages and sepsis.
Unfortunately, these women are better off than most. WHO estimates that each year between 4.7% to 13.2 % of maternal deaths are because of unsafe abortion practices, which equals out to over 200,000 people left without friends, daughters, or mothers annually. Given that abortions have been deemed to be one of the safest medical procedures when carried out by a medical professional, these deaths are entirely preventable.
Yet the consequences of these unsafe home procedures go beyond the lasting health implications for affected women. Research has found a strong link between unsafe abortions and rates of attempted suicides and substance abuse. Coupled with the stigma surrounding abortions in Honduras, this threatens to further isolate these undeserving women in their darkest time. Additionally, the WHO estimates around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals in developing countries as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. This translates to around 553 million USD annually in hospital fees.
Furthermore, in a nation already struggling with poverty, this “legal shield” might cause the country to sink yet deeper into economic crisis. The Honduran Women’s Rights Center estimates between 50,000 and 80,000 abortions are carried out in the country each year with an estimated 75% of these deemed to be unsafe. These unsafe abortions run the risk that Honduras will face millions of dollars in preventable hospital bills, thus deepening the poverty that many women risk facing.
However, constitutional change in Honduras stands out in the “green wave” of pro-choice campaigning currently taking Latin America by storm. This movement, named for the green scarf often worn by protestors, has found great success in Argentina and other countries.
In Argentina abortion was legalized in late 2020 after five years of consistent protests. In 2017, Peru outlined new criminal penalties for sexual harassment that extended into educational, employment, and training relationships. Paraguay swiftly followed suit by expanding their own legal definition of violence against women to include economic, labor, political and cyber violence that same year. Additionally, in 2018, the proportion of women in parliament in Latin America and the Caribbean reached 30% with four countries in the region being in the top ten of all countries globally in terms of women’s political representation.
Such changes offer promise for women’s rights in the Latin American region. Yet the advancement of anti-abortion legislation in Honduras threatens to undermine any regional progress.
As noted earlier, Honduras is one of six countries, including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Haiti that currently bans abortions altogether. While many hoped these laws would change alongside the ongoing Green Wave in the region, Honduras stands as an example to conservative countries: Anti-abortion legislation needs to be locked in before it’s too late.
In light of these incredibly disheartening and outwardly inhumane acts against women’s reproductive and human rights, the new constitutional amendment in Honduras should be that much more enraging. While positive news in Argentina should be celebrated for what it represents, this celebration shouldn’t come without acknowledging the massive human rights violations that are simultaneously occurring in other parts of the region.
For the past 30 years, Honduras has desperately clung to a political system that seeks to punish women for a basic human right. This new legislation will only worsen this reality. How many unnecessary deaths will it take before the government finally says enough is enough? Honduran women deserve justice. It may just take a global outcry to achieve that.
Edited by Mahnoor Syed.
Photo credits: “Somos Fuerza” by L’odyssée Belle, published on April 13, 2018, licensed under Unsplash. No changes were made.
Emily is in her third year at McGill University majoring in Political science with minors in social entrepreneurship and international development.