By Manuela L. Picq*
A debate on abortion suspended the voting on the new penal code in the Ecuadorian Congress this week. Congresswoman Soledad Buendía, from President Correa’s party Alianza PAIS, made a forceful move demanding that Article 149 of the Constitution legalizes abortion in cases of rape. Her motion was supported by congresswomen María Alejandra Vicuña, Blanca Arguello, and Paola Pabón, who proposed legal language for abortion not to be punishable under week 12 for pregnancies resulting from rape. The proposal stirred up protests in Congress, suspending its session. President Rafael Correa threatened to resign if Congress approved this abortion law, which he called ‘prenatal euthanasia,’ then accused the women legislators in his party of being traitors.
Ecuador’s penal code, which dates back to 1938, only authorizes abortion if the pregnancy is the result of the rape of an insane woman or constitutes a serious danger to the life of the mother. It criminalizes abortion in any other situation, including cases of rape. Women movements have been pushing for the decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape across Latin America, where sexual violence is a daily human rights challenge. According to legislators, Ecuador recorded about 3 684 girls victims to sexual violence in 2010 only.
The current impasse on the criminalization of abortion in Ecuador is not a legal regression since it maintains the jurisdiction established in 1938. Yet it shows the limits of social change in Correa’s Revolución Ciudadana. Things are not getting worse for women; they remain the same. And, that is what feminist groups are dissatisfied with. The inability to decriminalize abortion reveals that this government is more of the same, that the most conservative forces within the Catholic Church continue to exercise significant power over the social justice politics of the new left. Human Rights Watch wrote to the female President of Congress, Gabriela Rivadeneira, asking her to reconsider a legal reform to secure women’s access to safe and secure abortion, given that its criminalization only exacerbates clandestine abortions and put poor women at risk.
Further, the debate over the criminalization of abortion reveals the inconsistency of a penal code that condemns feminicide but endorses patriarchal policies denying women autonomy over their bodies. It also shows that women in power have no power. Congresswomen have been elected, but their vote is monitored by the party that has brought them to power. Under threat within their own party, the legislators are about to bend to the President. What is the point of having women in power that cannot cast their vote? A few congresswomen were brave to defend women’s fundamental rights, but have been immediately punished by their own party, and have proven unable to hold their position. This abortion meltdown atEcuador’s Congress shows that Latin America may be the region with most women in politics, but that their presence remains all too decorative.
*Manuela L. Picq is a Professor of International Relations at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador) and a Member at the Institute for Advanced Study (USA).